VSEA’s Week In Action Newsletter: September 20, 2019
At each VSEA Annual Meeting, the winners of five special awards are announced. The winners received the most votes from their peers in each of the categories. This year, three of the winners were present to receive their award. Pictured here (top, then clockwise–each with presenter Terry Lefebvre) are representatives of the Barre Chapter, Aimee Towne (ESD) and Robin Rieske (VDH).
VSEA members met last Saturday in Ludlow at the union’s 75th Annual Meeting, and for members and retirees who could not attend, here’s a quick recap of what took place:
Announcement of newly elected officers, who are:
Dave Bellini – President
Aimee Towne – First Vice President
Leslie Matthews – Second Vice President Jackie Hickerson – Treasurer
Josh Cox – Clerk
Members approved an operating budget and approved raising member dues .25 cents per pay period. Formation of a dues-study committee was also discussed and approved, and it will be chaired by VSEA 2nd VP Leslie Matthews.
Members approved a change to a bylaw governing Board attendance.
Members adopted a "Climate Change Crisis" resolution, which was drafted by VSEA members and adopted recently by the Central Vermont Chapter. One of the resolution’s drafters, Bob Atchinson, introduced the resolution, which he said will provide members and retirees with "ways to respond" to the serious issue of climate change. He also stressed the importance of labor helping to champion this cause.
Members approved a resolution (unanimously) to name the large Board room at VSEA headquarters after longtime VSEA activist and leader (and baker!) Ruth Leithead, who is right now battling a very serious illness, which kept her from attending this year’s Annual Meeting for the first time in decades. NMU Chair Bob Stone introduced the resolution and shared a powerful passage about VSEA and union power from a piece Ruth had drafted in 2007. VSEA’s thoughts and prayers are with Ruthie.
Members elected Eric Davis and John Federico to the Statewide Retirement Board, as VSEA representatives.
2019 Annual Meeting Award Winners
The following members, Chapter and staffer received special awards for their exemplary service to VSEA in the past year:
Frank Mazza Award – Aimee Towne
Terry Macaig Award – John Davy
Steward of the Year – Robin Rieske
Chapter of the Year – Barre Chapter
Linda Coan Award – Carmen Scoles
Jeff Bollen, UFCW Local 1445 President
VIDEO COMING SOON!
Members and retirees in attendance at VSEA’s 75th Annual Meeting were treated to a rousing keynote address from UFCW Local 1445 President Jeff Bollen; a leader of the successful Stop & Shop strike in April 2019.
Thanks to everyone who took time out of their lives to attend this special anniversary Annual Meeting.
WATCH: 75 Years Strong! VSEA 2019 Annual Meeting Photo Slideshow
Winners Of VSEA’s Most Recent Membership Recruitment Drive Awarded Checks
If you’re a VSEA member who recruited a new member to your union during VSEA’s most recent membership recruitment drive, your name was entered into a lottery to win one of four $300 prizes. At last Saturday’s Annual Meeting, the winners were drawn, and they are:
Jason Brooker – AOT
Cindy Chornyak – DMH
Bryan LaBarge – Military Department
Bev Ordway – VPCH
Thanks to all the winners for recruiting new VSEA members to your union. Stay tuned for the next membership recruitment drive and your chance to win a prize.
Employees Tell VSEA What Worked And What Didn’t During And After The August 30 Security Scare At 133 State Street
VSEA representatives were at the 133 State Street Building on Wednesday to meet with state employees who wanted to talk with the union about the State’s handling of the possible person-with–a-weapon incident on August 30. Judging by the feedback, it’s safe to say that, while some safety and security measures in place did work as advertised, far too many others did not.
Employees said that seeing a person wearing a vest that identified them as a designated safety warden was one thing they really appreciated, and this came from many of the employees who attended the meeting. However, there were some things that still need work according to the employees, including:
More drills for employees and managers on emergency procedures. Employees report some managers were openly frustrated about not receiving a lot of direction or practice for these kinds of serious incidents from higher up;
Clarity about who should be contacted for guidance at the State level in these situations;
Clarity on the chain-of-command during an incident like this, from the State’s perspective. There was confusion in some places about who was in charge, both for the State and for all the responding law enforcement personnel; and
A remedy to the discombobulated messaging employees say occurred in many of the impacted agencies and departments, while the incident was being investigated.
VSEA is promising to follow up with the State’s Director of Safety and Security and members of the statewide Joint Safety and Health Maintenance Committee about the concerns workers’ voiced at the meeting. VSEA will also continue to lobby lawmakers hard for increased funding to address workers’ safety and security concerns, but, as we know, this is an uphill climb and will definitely require state employees to come to the State House to help make the case in the upcoming session.
Closed Stairways Are Safety Concern For State Employees At 120 State Street
WCAX reported this week on state employees safety concerns about closed stairways at the 120 State Street Building, especially after the recent scare across the street at the 133 State Street Building.
From the WCAX story:
"[DII employee Tavis] Morse and other state employees at 120 State Street — better known as the DMV complex — are asking what if? That’s because right now as part of the ongoing 120 State Street renovation project, two of the three staircases are closed off — the two exterior stairwells on both sides of the building. "I feel like they’ve removed some of our options," Morse said. "If a shooter walks into the building, pulls the fire alarm, and everyone just starts walking down the main staircase, we’re all sitting ducks."
But Department of Buildings and General Services officials say there’s a good reason for that. BGS originally designed a plan to reconstruct the west and east stairwells one at a time, but the fire marshal informed them that could cause security issues. The central staircase connects all five floors, but employees need cards to enter the doors on either side. State fire regulations would require those doors remain unlocked if one of the side towers stayed open, so employees from one side of the building could access the other.
"Everybody was in agreement that the plan that the fire marshal had put together for how they wanted this project to be constructed was the safest way to move forward," said BGS Commissioner Chris Cole. He says if an intruder enters the building, armed law enforcement officers could fend them off. Plus, he says the project should be finished by December or January.
Still, employees like Morse say they feel the state is sacrificing safety to save time and money. "You see the ingredients for the perfect storm," he said.
But Cole argues that isn’t the case. "It had nothing to do about money and has everything to do with employee safety," he said.
After Tuesday’s fire drill, the security team will reassess the emergency plans and decide if they need to be changed.
State Colleges’ BOT Passes Resolution To Keep All Campuses Open & Operating
Several media outlets reported Thursday on a Wednesday meeting of the Vermont State Colleges’ Board of Trustees, where the Trustees passed a resolution to keep Northern Vermont University and Lyndon State College open and operating. The Board passed the resolution after local residents and business owners expressed fears about the college closing at a VSC-sponsored public meeting in Lyndon last week.
Officials aren’t looking to close Northern Vermont University’s campus in Lyndon, or to replace brick-and-mortar programs with the university’s online college, according to the head of the Vermont State Colleges system.
“We have not finished our assessment of our system to achieve the educational and fiscal results we hope to achieve,” Chancellor Jeb Spaulding said in a statement released Wednesday. “However, due to recent, unfounded rumors, we have addressed NVU first.”
The college system’s board of trustees passed a resolution that day affirming support for the “on-going unification efforts at thriving campuses in Lyndon and Johnson,” while Spaulding explicitly said no proposals had been made to disband either location.
Note: VSC Chancellor Jeb Spaulding emphatically stated Thursday morning on WDEV‘s Dave Gram Show that the December report referenced in the VTDigger story will not include any proposal to shutter a campus.
VSEA Labor Relations Director Posts New Bargaining Update
VSEA’s Non-Management, Corrections, and Supervisory Unit Bargaining Teams met jointly with State negotiators this week to conduct another session of "coordinated bargaining" on universal issues, like wages and benefits.
Labor Relations Director Gary Hoadley has posted a new meeting summary on VSEA’s website. Hoadley’s summaries are in the "Members Only" section of VSEA.org. Only registered users can view. Register Here
After logging in to VSEA.org, registered members can navigate to the "Members Only" drop-down menu, located in the homepage’s left-hand column. You can expand a drop-down from there and select "Negotiation Notes From VSEA Director of Labor Relations Gary Hoadley" or you can click "Member-Only Documents" and then on the following page, click the same heading.
Hundreds Have Already Completed The VSEA Workplace Safety & Security Survey. Still Time!
Nearly 500 VSEA members have already taken the VSEA Board of Trustees’ survey to identify employees’ chief safety and security concerns. The Board is thanking all the members who already completed the survey (link below) and is reminding members who have yet to take it that there is still time.
The information gleaned from this survey will be useful at the State House in the upcoming session, as VSEA leaders, members and staff continue to make a strong push for improved safety and security for all state employees and the public-at-large who use Vermont services.
In addition to sharing the safety and security survey findings with lawmakers, VSEA will also be sharing them with the membership, the State’s Director of Safety & Security and with the state’s Joint Safety and Health Maintenance Committee.
Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding, responding this week on WDEV”s Dave Gram Show to a question about a rumor that a much-anticipated December cost-savings report from the Chancellor will include closing Lyndon State College.
Proposal To Make America’s Wealthiest Pay Their Fair Share Gaining Traction At The Federal Level
The Hill reports this week on a proposal drafted by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden–the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate’s tax-writing committee–that is designed to prevent the rich from avoiding taxes on their investment gains.
From the post:
[Wyden’s] plan would overhaul how capital gains are taxed to extend Social Security’s solvency.
Under Wyden’s proposal, capital gains and ordinary income would be taxed at the same rates. Additionally, those who have had more than $1 million in income or $10 million in assets in three consecutive years would be subject to new anti-deferral rules, such as being required to pay taxes annually on investment gains from tradable assets and being required to pay a lookback charge on nontradable assets when those investments are sold or transferred.
Under current law, people don’t have to pay capital gains taxes until they sell their investments.
Addressing that tax deferral ability “has to be a priority for tax reformers in 2021,” Wyden said at an event Thursday hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) Action Fund. The Oregon Democrat would likely become chair of the Senate Finance Committee if Democrats regain control of the Senate after the 2020 elections.
Wyden’s plan had been eagerly awaited by many left-leaning tax experts, since the senator had announced in April that he planned to release a paper on taxing wealthy people’s investment gains annually.
Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, said it’s “historic” that the top Democrat on the Finance Committee put out a proposal that is as progressive as Wyden’s and that tackles structural reforms with the tax system.
“It’s a game changer,” Clemente said. “This is the direction that progressive tax reform has to go in.”
Note: Let’s hope Vermont lawmakers also revisit any and all proposals at the state level to ensure tax fairness across the board. It’s time for Vermont’s wealthiest, whose net worth has been shown to be increasing at a far faster rate (42%) than low-income Vermonters (6%), to pony up a little more.
Chicago Teachers & School Employees Get Ready To Strike
The website Chalkbeat posted a story this week about a possible strike soon by Chicago teachers, as well as a strike by special education classroom aides, bus aides and custodians.
From the story:
If teachers walk out, schools are likely to close altogether and families would have to find alternate arrangements for their children. If special education aides and bus aides strike, thousands of families could lose transportation and critical supports for children with special needs.
The same lawyer, James Franczek, represents the city in negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union and the support-staff union, the Service Employees International Union Local 73.
The earliest Local 73 workers could strike is Oct. 17 — just 10 days after the Chicago Teachers Union’s earliest strike date of Oct. 7.
Local 73 officials said the union rejected the fact-finder’s report because it didn’t suggest high enough raises for special education assistants. The union argues their starting salary of just over $31,000 is unacceptably low. The union also wants to prevent special education aides from being tapped to work as substitute teachers.
On the teacher negotiations front, Franczek sent a letter (leaked to the Chicago Tribune) to union officials on Friday accusing them of not responding to key proposals on health benefits, teacher evaluations, substitute teachers and grading practices.
VSEA Benefits Advisory Committee Update On Blue Cross Claims Issues
VSEA’s Board and Benefits Advisory Committee, via WIA, recently messaged VSEA members and retirees about issues with Blue Cross / Blue Shield’s claim process.
BAC Committee member Cindy Chornyak asked WIA to include this update this week, and we are happy to oblige.
Regarding the Blue Cross claims problems our health plan has experienced since January 1, 2019: We want members to know that your VSEA representatives have been working closely with the State on your behalf to get these issues resolved. In May of this year, through the Benefits Advisory Committee, VRSEA Trustees and the VSEA members sent a strongly worded letter to the Commissioner of Human Resources, citing the many claim problems that our plan members have encountered. We asked the State to assess the maximum performance penalties available under its contract with Blue Cross for the poor performance. And we are pleased to announce that to date in 2019, our health plan has assessed over $132,000 in performance penalties.
Recently VSEA learned of another newly discovered glitch in the Blue Cross claims system. Blue Cross has been assessing a $30 specialist co-pay for certain provider claims that should have a $25 regular co-pay instead. This can occur, for example, when a member sees a Nurse Practitioner instead of a doctor, which is fairly common these days. Our plan does not require that members choose a primary care physician. Claims by Nurse Practitioners or Physicians Assistants working with a physician should be covered the same as the physician’s claim.
The State Benefits Office has asked Blue Cross for a date certain by which this glitch will be fixed and for a complete rundown of all state health plan members who have been impacted since January 1, when the new Blue Cross claims system came online. Blue Cross has promised that once the fix is in place, they will reprocess all affected member claims and fix any errors that might have occurred. Members do not need to take any action; any misprocessed claims will be reprocessed and correctly paid by Blue Cross. VSEA is closely monitoring this situation on your behalf as well.
State Employees Who Are Threatened On The Job Should File "eAlert" Form
We are reminding members that there is an online form to fill out if you are threatened while at work.
Important: Once you land on the eAlert page, you will see an entry labeled “threat” in the menu provided. Click on it and you land on a page with written instructions and fields to complete.
In November 2017, the current Secretary of the Administration sent the State’s “Workplace Safety and Security” policy to state employees, and VSEA members are encouraged to read through the different policies, examples and responses, prior to an actual event occurring.
Please take a few minutes on a break to watch the video, and know that the information being relayed could very well save your job someday. Remember, as a VSEA member, you are entitled to no-cost representation in investigatory meetings that may lead to discipline. Non-members, however, must now pay a rate of $250 to $350 per-hour for the same level of representation!
What You Should Know About The Anti-Worker Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court Ruling
If you haven’t already, begin educating yourself today about what the Janus decision means—or supplement what you know already. Please also inform your co-workers about this Janus page and talk with them about what you learned and remind them of the importance of a union in their everyday life. You could make a difference. Every study shows that nothing is more effective than member-to-member communication.
Getting Ready To Retire? Retired Already? Join The VSEA Retired Members’ Chapter!
Long-time VSEA activist and leader Terry Lefebvre is asking VSEA members getting ready to retire to join the VSEA Retirees’ Chapter to continue to be an active and engaged union member, even in retirement. Lefebvre also appeals to VSEA members to talk up the co-workers they know who might be preparing to retire. If you already belong to the Retired Members’ Chapter, a big thanks to you.