Fully Funded Pay Act Passes House, Moves To Senate
By Adam Norton and Anne Accettella, VSEA Staff
For State employees, the Pay Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation to be debated each biennium. Your elected bargaining teams and VSEA staff collectively spend hundreds of hours negotiating contracts with the administration, but due to the separation of powers, the legislature must decide whether to fund the recently ratified contracts. Full funding of the Pay Act is vital to ensure good faith bargaining is respected and that Vermont’s state employees receive the raises you deserve.
The struggle to fully fund your contracts was made even more difficult by the budgetary crunch for Fiscal Year 2015, but VSEA members successfully defended their contracts with unprecedented outreach to their elected representatives via e-mails, phone calls and face-to-face lobbying. The Pay Act passed in the House Government Operations Committee 6-5 and was sent to the House Appropriations Committee where it passed 7-4. Just this morning, the Pay Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 95-47. Several of the Representatives who voted “no” explained their vote by expressing respect and appreciation for state employees; however they do not support funding your contract.
These Are the Legislators Who Voted Against Your Contract!
The significance of the budget for the livelihoods of state employees cannot be overstated. The budget is approved annually by the legislature, funding current state employees’ positions, incorporating the necessary funding for the Pay Act and ensuring that the essential services state employee’s provide are maintained. The Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposed by the Shumlin Administration increased General Fund expenditures by 5.1%, relying on $35 million in one-time funds and $14 million in new revenue from a health care claims assessment to fill the budget gap. The House Committee on Ways and Means opted against the claims assessment, fearing it would increase health care costs. The House Appropriations Committee was able to close all but $3.3 million of the budget gap by reducing proposed increases in Medicaid reimbursements and funding for UVM, VSAC and the Vermont State Colleges. The remaining budget gap was closed with increased taxes on smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, and education funding changes to raise $3.3 million in revenue, and tapping $1.1 million in sequestration reserves.
The FY2015 budget creates only 18 of the 204 positions requested by commissioners to ensure their departments are properly staffed and fully functional. These 18 positions range from Food Safety Specialists at the Agency of Agriculture, to Enterprise Architects at the Department of Information and Innovation. The budget also fills 83 existing vacancies available in the position pool; most of these positions will be staffing the 25 bed Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin, which is scheduled to open this fall. VSEA is disappointed that this budget does not adequately address the understaffing of Vermont’s State Government.
The increased demand for public services due to the recession combined with a total state workforce still 214 employees less than Vermont employed in 2007 has increased the workload, stress level and turnover of state employees. Finally, VSEA regrets that neither the Governor’s nor House Appropriations Committee included sufficient funding for Vermont’s State Colleges. Vermont currently ranks 49th in the nation in per-student higher education funding. The House Appropriations Committee’s decision to reduce the Governor’s proposed 1% increase for the Vermont State Colleges to a sub-inflationary.5% increase is unacceptable, while many Vermont families struggle with the cost of higher education. The budget passed the House by a vote of 91-46.
S. 218 Temp Bill
VSEA’s legislative priorities included reducing the State’s over-reliance on temporary workers. While VSEA recognizes that some temporary workers are necessary as seasonal workers in state forests, parks and AOT projects, the state has been using temps to serve as full-time employees without benefits in the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Children and Families. The State’s reliance on temporary workers undercuts your contract, while placing additional burdens of training and supporting temps on state workers who are already overworked. Moreover, temporary employees are at-will employees with no sick leave, forcing many temps to work while they are sick. The lack of sick leave for temporary employees raises health and safety concerns for state employees working alongside them, and has the potential to increase sick leave use and health care costs for classified state employees. S.218 would also reduce the legal limit of hours that temporary employees can work in one year from 1520 hours to 1280 hours, while extending this limit to the Vermont Judiciary which currently has no limit annual hours worked by temps.
S. 218 Passed out of the Senate Government Operations Committee and was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations committee removed important sections of the bill that would extend the law to the judiciary and extend paid sick days to temporary workers. The bill passed on the floor of the Senate with the amendments from the Senate Appropriation committees. S.218 enjoys the support of the administration, who testified in favor of the legislation. Your union is hopeful that this important legislation can be repaired and passed.
S. 241 Grievance Arbitration
The committee on Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs voted down the bill that would allow us to bargain for grievance arbitration and opted instead for a study to explore this option. Grievance Arbitration is enjoyed by public-sector unions nationwide and by teacher, municipal and judiciary employees here in Vermont. The committee passed the bill amended to a study out of their committee where it went to Senate Appropriations who voted in favor of the bill. The bill passed out of the Senate and will now head to the House.
S. 225 Dispatchers Early Retirement
The Senate Government Operations Committee passed S. 225 removing the early retirement penalty for dispatchers. S. 225 went to the Senate Appropriations Committee where it was transformed into a study that will look at other state jobs in addition to the dispatchers who work in highly stressful environments and might also benefit from early retirement provisions. Though S.225 has the support of Vermont’s State Treasurer, some legislators expressed concern about the fiscal implications of any retirement enhancements for state workers. VSEA is hopeful for the prospects of S.225 in the House.
H. 863 Public Records Exemption for Whistleblowers
The Senate Government Operations Committee took H. 863 up this week and will continue to schedule hearings next week. This bill has already passed the House and VSEA hopes to preserve the language passed by the House allowing the Auditor to protect the identities of state employees who report to the Auditor’s office. Ensuring the confidentiality of whistleblowers is critical to maintaining an efficient and transparent state government.
VSEA Members and Staff to Attend the 2014 Labor Notes Conference in Chicago
On Thursday April 4, VSEA members and staff will embark on a journey to the 2014 Labor Notes Conference in Chicago Illinois.
The conference is a three day event aimed at educating and training labor unions throughout the world. The Labor Notes Conference will give VSEA the opportunity to join other union members, activists and officers to discuss and learn through workshops and meetings. Such workshops include creative organizing tactics, beating apathy, running for local union office, winning contract campaigns, bargaining over technology, understanding the economy, and reviving the strike.
We will be live tweeting from the conference all weekend so be sure to follow our social media pages such as Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch.
No Week In Action April 4
Our communications team will be attending the 2014 Labor Notes conference in Chicago so Week In Action will not be published next week. Though, we will return April 11 with plenty of updates and news.
Additionally, we will be live tweeting next weekend from the conference so stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates.
Show Your Support! CCTA Fair Contract Rally Tomorrow At Burlington’s City Hall
Tomorrow at 12:00p.m. labor unions from across Vermont and New England will gather at Burlington’s City Hall to show solidarity with the CCTA bus drivers.
Bring your voices, posters, union insignia, & support for our bus drivers and all workers in the struggle for jobs with respect and dignity!
Invite your friends! Raise your voice!
We stand behind the bus drivers, who voted 54-0 to defend their rights to respect and dignity at work. They’re striking to end predatory management and for humane and safe working conditions. After over ten months of failed negotiations around non-monetary issues: reasonable scheduling, prioritizing safety, ending arbitrary discipline, and respect on the job, it is time that the CCTA Board of Commissioners stop stonewalling negotiations, holding 10,000 passengers hostage by prolonging a strike that it could easily resolve by by settling a fair contract.
The list of endorsements for the rally includes:
Vermont Workers’ Center
Peace & Justice Center
UE Young Activists
VT Fair Food Campaign
Vermont Progressive Party
Vermont Student Union
Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series
UVM Students Stand Up
VSTEP: Vermont Students Towards Environmental Protection
VSEA members using an iPhone or Android can now download the new VSEA App called “VSEAUnite.” Once registered, users identify their VSEA bargaining unit and location, and the App will allow you to view your Unit’s contract, find contact information for your nearest VSEA steward (to report contract infractions), see a calendar of upcoming VSEA events and read the latest news about working people to hit the wires.
The download is free, so your union hopes all VSEA iPhone and Android users will download it today!