Weekly News From Your Union February 17, 2014 – February 21, 2014
Next VSEA Council Meeting Is Tuesday, March 18!
VSEA First Vice President Michelle Salvador asked WIA to let VSEA Council members know that the next Council meeting will be Tuesday, March 18, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier. Please mark the date. The other scheduled Council meeting dates for 2014 are: June 10 at Johnson State College, September 12 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, and December 16 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
VSEA Members & Retirees Spend Day Lobbying Legislators To Support Union’s Key Issues
House Chambers was full of VSEA members and retirees on VSEA Lobby Day 2014
Approximately 75-100 VSEA members and retirees didn’t let a little bit of snow keep them from attending VSEA’s 2014 Lobby Day at the State House on February 18, which was followed that night by the union’s annual Legislative Reception at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
VSEA’s Lobby Day began in the early morning with registration and a continental breakfast outside the State House cafeteria. VSEA members and retirees were able to meet with their legislators over coffee and a bagel/doughnut to talk about the issues important to them, including:
Preventing further privatization of state government;
Reducing the number of temporary workers in state government;
Providing earned sick days to all working Vermonters, including temporary workers;
Granting state employees a right to bargain for the right to grievance arbitration by a neutral, third-party arbitrator;
Ensuring state employees are active participants in the planning process around worksite moves/relocations;
Allowing more state employees to telecommute, when it makes sense;
Permitting Vermont’s 911 dispatchers to retire at age 55 with 20 years of service;
Making sure Employment Services Division employees are not scapegoated for high error rates; and
Stopping the legislative implementation of an Employer Group Waiver Program that would mandate VSEA retirees receive prescription drugs through Medicare Part D.
After conducting as many face-to-face breakfast meetings as possible with legislators, VSEA members and retirees moved to a State House meeting room to hear directly from Secretary of the Administration Jeb Spaulding about the Administration’s position on many of the VSEA issues listed above. First (and without prompting) Spaulding acknowledged the issue of too many temporary workers in state government and said he and other state officials will “sit down soon and see what we can do to end the inappropriate use of temps,” adding “we do not want to take advantage of temporary workers.” The floor was then opened up to questions and when asked about making the state employee health care plan the baseline plan for all Vermonters, Spaulding said he could not commit to anything, but he believed whatever benefit package ends up being offered “will not be that different at all from the state employee benefit package.” Next, Spaulding was asked if earned sick days will be provided to temporary workers, but Spaulding said “I don’t know the answer to that,” adding “I don’t know where we’d find the $400,000 to $500,000 it’s been projected to cost.” Spaulding was then asked about the increasing use of part-time employees at the Vermont Veterans Home and said “The thing I can assure you of the most is that this Administration does not have any intention of overusing part-time employees at the Veterans Home to diminish the quality of care or to take away the job security of the full-time employees there. I’m sorry it hasn’t been worked out sooner.” An ESD worker then asked Spaulding if the Administration is committed to work with ESD management and employees to ensure ESD workers are not held responsible for high error rates. He said “It’s wrong to scapegoat ESD state employees. The whole DCF has been under incredible stress…I know a lot of people have resigned because they just can’t deal with it anymore. I hope I’m right in saying that no member of [this] Administration has been involved in the scapegoating of state employees.” Spaulding suggested a pilot program be established at DCF, with staff and management, to determine how best to utilize available resources. The next question was more a concern voiced about the number of employees working for Creative Workforce Solutions and VABIR and an ask of the Administration to request that CWS and VABIR voluntarily comply with Vermont’s Freedom of Information Act. “I can’t give you a definitive answer to that,” said Spaulding. “We’ll take a serious look at it.” A retired DOC member asked Spaulding about the overuse of temporary workers in the Corrections’ system, and he said “he’d like to learn more about the situation in Corrections. If it’s a black-and-white issue,” why wouldn’t the Administration want to intervene?” When asked about whether or not the Administration would commit to advancing a formal relocation policy to include frontline workers in the decision-making and planning process around worksite moves, Spaulding said he “isn’t sure we need some kind of a formal written policy, as opposed to an understanding that we ought to involve the state employees. We thought we were doing this well, but it turns out there were many people who weren’t included in the process. I hope we’ve learned from that. We’ll try to be more proactive and make sure we’re doing proper outreach, but I don’t think we need a formal policy.” Next, Spaulding was asked why Vermont continues to spend millions to send offenders to for-profit, out-of-state prisons “and support their economies” and what the plan is to address the problem of offenders with mental health issues. Spaulding said the only answer he could think of to stop outsourcing offenders is to build more prisons in Vermont,” and “we all need to look for a way, short of building new prisons, to confront this issue.” He added that the mental health issue is “a very serious issue,” adding that the opening of the new Vermont State Hospital should help alleviate some of the pressure put on prisons to hold offenders with mental health issues. Spaulding left the room, pledging to work more closely with VSEA in the future to address state employees’ issues and concerns.
After Spaulding departed, lunch was served, but VSEA President Shelley Martin, First Vice President Michelle Salvador and Board of Trustees’ member Raechel Fields made their way across the hall to testify at a public hearing on the budget being hosted by the House Appropriations Committee. Martin asked the Committee to please support earned sick days for all working Vermonters, including temps, using her own battle with cancer to illustrate how bad it would have been if she had not had her state employee health insurance. Salvador testified about the State’s reliance on temporary workers, especially in DCF and the DOC, reminding Committee members about the different costs associated with using temps versus full-time employees. Finally, Fields testified as a Vermont Veterans’ Home employee, asking the Committee to support funding for the facility and reminding them of the many outstanding VVH employee needs still waiting to be addressed.
At noon, VSEA members and retirees made their way to House chambers, where they were greeted first by Senate Pro Tem John Campbell and then Speaker of the House Shap Smith. Both Campbell and Smith fielded a few questions, similar to the ones asked earlier in the day of Secretary of the Administration Spaulding. Both legislative leaders were non-committal on many of VSEA’s issues, primarily because each said they were watching the various VSEA-supported bills move through their respective bodies and waiting to see the outcome before committing to anything. Both were extremely appreciative of the work state employees do and the high quality of services being provided. After hearing from Campbell and Smith, VSEA members held a kind of town-hall meeting, where each member/retiree in attendance talked about what they do, why they do it and what belonging to VSEA means to them. Many of the testimonials provided were powerful and really demonstrated the level of commitment most VSEA members have to their colleagues, to Vermonters, and to their work.
In the afternoon, VSEA members and retirees moved to the Capitol Plaza Hotel, where they had lunch and then were treated to a panel discussion about the effort to enact legislation to provide health care to all Vermonters. After that, State Treasurer Beth Pearce stopped by to discuss retirement issues, including the controversial EGWP proposal being floated by the State. Next up was VSEA First President Michelle Salvador, who provided the crowd with an overview of the political landscape moving into the 2014 election season, focusing on key races for VSEA members to watch and highlighting some where VSEA members’ help would be crucial. State Auditor Doug Hoffer then stopped by to talk about his bill to protect the identity of state employees and all working Vermonters who blow the whistle on fraud and corruption. Secretary of State Jim Condos followed Hoffer, and he talked about his long relationship with state employees and his desire for open and transparent government. The afternoon ended with a informative review of how to talk with legislators that was presented by VSEA Organizing Director Kristin Warner.
The day wasn’t over though. At 4:30 p.m., VSEA opened the doors to its annual VSEA Legislative Reception, which was held this year at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier. This popular event draws lawmakers and State officials to talk with active and retired VSEA members in a casual and relaxed atmosphere. Again, even with the weather playing a factor, attendance at this year’s event was impressive and a good time was had by all.
To see photos from VSEA’s 2014 Lobby Day and Legislative Reception, please click here.
On Lobby Day, VSEA Legislative Committee Chair Talks With VTDigger About VSEA’s Legislative Agenda
After VSEA members and retirees held a town hall meeting in House Chambers, VTDigger talked with VSEA Legislative Committee Chair Dr. Leslie Matthews about some of the primary issues on VSEA’s 2014 legislative agenda. Here’s a short excerpt from the story, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here.
Chronic understaffing is also a problem to fix, the VSEA claims. Matthews described some instances in which state employees have come under fire for poor performance — including at the Vermont Veterans’ Home and the Department for Children and Family’s high error rate for allocating benefits to low-income Vermonters.
Employees deflect responsibility for problems by pointing to management decisions about workflow, and say they’re under the gun with inadequate staffing levels to do their jobs well. Private contractors, meanwhile, often say they can do the public’s work faster, better and cheaper, Matthews said. This year, the VSEA is suggesting a way for state employees to challenge their competitors.
A bill regarding privatization of state services would require contractors to pay their employees a rate equivalent to what comparable state employees would earn. That way, private contractors would be less able to offer savings “on the backs of their employees,” Matthews said. The legislation also would allow state employees the resources they need to assemble competitive bids to essentially keep their work.
VSEA President Pens Commentary On Temps: Vermont’s Invisible Workforce
The following commentary by VSEA President Shelley Martin was published in the Feb. 16 Times Argus and Rutland Herald. It also appears today on VTDigger:
The Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) hears often from members about the increasing number of temporary employees working today in state government. The temps go to work each day with full-time state employees doing jobs very similar to theirs, but with one huge difference. Many of the employees the temps work alongside belong to VSEA and are covered under a contract that affords them a fair wage, health care coverage and pension benefits. But the temps receive no health care or retirement benefits, and many are probably left to rely heavily on state assistance. Disturbingly, the number of hours temps are working for the state is rapidly rising. The state’s own yearly Workforce Reports show the number of hours jumping 28 percent from 902,089 hours in 2009 to 1,154,888 hours in 2014.
Today, you’ll find temps occupying roughly 20 percent of all state government jobs, with 600 to 1,000 temps employed across Vermont at any one time. And far too many of these temps have been working for the state in these positions for years — not just a few days, weeks or even months — but years. As reward for their temporary service, these workers are paid an average hourly wage of $13.13 per hour, but receive no health care coverage, retirement security or a host of other benefits that most working Vermonters — both public and private sector — enjoy and earn every day. Instead, many temps who are not currently working, or who retire after temping for years, are left to rely on state assistance, which places additional pressure on our already overburdened public services and our state’s budget.Vermont can and must do better for what some in the labor movement have correctly labeled “the invisible workforce.”
VSEA members are impacted almost daily by the presence of temps in their workplace, and we hear often from classified state employees about how inefficient and frustrating it is when they have to constantly stop what they are doing to answer a temp’s questions, educate them about how a system works or help them properly provide the quality services Vermonters expect and deserve. The stories are many — here are a few:
Just before Christmas, VSEA members working in the State’s Health Access Eligibility Unit (HAEU) were subjected to mandated overtime to process a backlog of Vermont Health Connect applications. The HAEU employees were asked to field calls from Vermonters as well, and temps were hired to assist them on the phones. According to many VSEA HAEU members, the temps’ inexperience and questions slowed down a process that was already having problems.
VSEA members working in call centers operated by the Department for Families and Children (DCF), report that attempts to bring down the 3Squares program’s nagging error rate are constantly being hampered by the state’s reliance on temps to help answer Vermonters’ calls. DCF has been fined for the past two years for high error rates in food stamps processing, which can be partially attributed to the over-reliance on temporary employees.
VSEA members working as DCF benefits processing specialists must receive more than six weeks of training to provide their service, yet they are working side-by-side with temps with insufficient training. Temps are limited to 1,520 hours annually; therefore the reliance on temporary employees creates a revolving door of temps where the state is constantly laying off trained and qualified employees to hire new temps who require additional resources to be trained.
A Department of Corrections (DOC) correctional officer is also required to have more than six weeks of training, but annually the DOC employs 150-200 temps who cover roughly 50 full-time, classified correctional officer positions. These temporary employees receive the same training as permanent correctional officers, but must be constantly replaced due to the 1,520 hour statutory cap and high turnover caused by the lack of job security. And the DOC temps come with other issues as well. Just last week, the DOC issued a memo to employees, advising them to stay home if they are sick. However, VSEA’s DOC members are quick to point out that DOC temps will often come to work sick because they don’t want to lose the income from the job, which defeats the purpose of the DOC’s original request to its employees to stay home. VSEA suspects this is probably a concern for many classified employees working daily alongside temps.
VSEA recognizes the necessity of temporary employees for seasonal or fill-in employment, however the abuse of temporary workers to supplement classified employees is bad for the taxpayer, bad for the morale of state workers and bad for the economic security of temporary workers and their families. VSEA does acknowledge that some of the reason for the spike in the state’s temp use can be attributed to the current administration still doing triage from Gov.James Douglas’s Challenges for Change 600-plus position-cutting exercise a few years back. But our members are concerned that the temp numbers have not come down much since then and, in fact, are increasing.
To confront this reality, VSEA is working with lawmakers to pass legislation this session, S.218 and H.624, to convert temporary employees to full-time, part-time or limited-service status by creating a mechanism to review temporary positions once they approach their statutory hourly limit. If a temp meets the hourly limit, currently 1,520 hours, the administration would be obligated to inform the Legislature, if it’s in session (or the Joint Fiscal Committee, if not in session), about the temporary position, which would then allow lawmakers to decide whether or not the temp position should be converted to full-time, part-time or limited-service status for a determined number of years. The legislation also asks for temps to be provided with prorated sick days for their service, or one hour for every 30 hours worked.
The state spent nearly $15.6 million to employ temps in fiscal year 2013, but VSEA members say a lot of that money is wasted on the time spent by full-time, classified state employees to assist and train temps who may or may not be back tomorrow. If the temp doesn’t return and is replaced by yet another temp, the cycle begins all over again.
If VSEA and our community allies are able to break this cycle and bring the temp numbers down, we believe Vermonters will receive better and faster service and that many of Vermont’s temp workers will finally be able to leave public assistance and experience how it feels to have financial, medical and retirement security. Please join VSEA in supporting S. 218 and H. 624. We can and must do better for this invisible Vermont workforce.
AP Reports: High Number Of Temps Causes State To Be Largest Employer Not Providing Earned Sick Days To Workers
A February 15 Associated Press story about the State being Vermont’s largest employer not providing earned sick days to a large segment of its workforce (read: temps and private contractor employees), leads with State House cafeteria worker Laura Tyrell telling a House committee that she came to work sick that day and had probably made some of their lunches. She explains that as an employee of private contractor The Abbey Group provides no earned sick days to its employees.
“If you guys knew today that I was sick, how [many] people wouldn’t have come and got any food from me,” Tyrell testified. “If I had a sign saying ‘Laura’s sick today,’ we would have lost a lot of business. I don’t feel like people should be put in that situation.”
The story reports some of the statistics about the State’s use of temps that can be found in VSEA President Shelley Martin’s commentary in the WIA entry above, and it includes a quote from VSEA Communications Coordinator Doug Gibson about why VSEA members are supporting earned sick days for all working Vermonters.
“A lot of VSEA members say many of the temps at their worksites are coming to work sick because they do not have paid sick days. All this does is get more employees sick—full-time and temporary—and the public, if they happen to come in contact with the sick temp. More employees out sick translates to a drop in productivity and a decline in services.”
MARCH 8! WOMENS’ MARCH FOR DIGNITY: PAID SICK DAYS FOR ALL
On March 8, VSEA members are invited to join the “Womens’ March For Dignity: Paid Sick Days For All” event. The march begins at noon at the Christ Episcopal Church at 64 State St. in Burlington. To find out more about the March 8 march for paid sick days, please click here.
VSEA Board Of Trustees Looking For New Clerk
Due to a resignation, the VSEA Clerk position on the Board of Trustees is vacant and up for nomination for election. The term for this seat expires in September 2015, following VSEA’s Annual Meeting.
If you are interested in placing your name into nomination to run for election to be VSEA Clerk, please complete a petition (click here) and return it to VSEA headquarters by 4:00 p.m. on the deadline date of Thursday, March 13, 2014. To be eligible for candidacy for this position, you must be an active member of VSEA. In order for your petition to be accepted, it must have the signatures of at least 25 VSEA members. Please note that “agency-fee payers” are not full-fledged members and their signatures are not valid for inclusion on your petition. Therefore it is suggested that you obtain more than 25 signatures.
Role of the VSEA Clerk:
The Clerk, in addition to the duties imposed by statute, shall issue or cause to be issued notice of all meetings of the Corporation which are required hereby to be sent to each member, each Council member and each member of the Board of Trustees. S/he shall attend all meetings of the Corporation, of the Council and of the Board of Trustees and keep a record thereof. S/he shall keep a record or cause a record to be kept .of members and Officers of the Corporation, of the Board of Trustees and of the Council. S/he shall report in writing to the Corporation at the annual meeting respecting (1) membership, (2) all meetings of the members, of the Council, and of the Board of Trustees and (3) all other matters relative to the duties of his/her office. S/he shall perform all other duties which the Board of Trustees or President may assign.
If you have questions regarding this election for VSEA Clerk, please contact Mary Poulos at MPoulos@VSEA.ORG.
The deadline to submit your name for nomination to be VSEA Clerk—and your petition—is 4:00 p.m., Thursday, March 13, 2014. Send your information to:
ERN Committee (CLERK) VSEA 155 State Street, Montpelier Vt. 05602
VSEA Board Of Trustees Looking To Fill Vacant Defender General/Vermont State Housing Authority Unit Seat
Due to a resignation, the Defender General/Vermont State Housing Authority Unit seat on the VSEA Board of Trustees is vacant and up for nomination. The term expires in October 2014.
If you are interested in entering your name for consideration for appointment to the Defender General/Vermont State Housing Authority Unit Trustee seat, please complete a letter of interest and submit it to VSEA headquarters by the deadline date of 4:00 p.m., Thursday, March 13, 2014. To be eligible for candidacy for this position, you must be an active member of VSEA, working in either the Defender General or Vermont State Housing Authority Units.
Role of a Trustee:
The VSEA Board of Trustees manages the internal affairs of the union and ensures that the policies of VSEA are followed. It reviews and approves the union’s budget for submission to the membership, and it reviews committee reports and recommends action by the Council and members. The Board also sets policy for VSEA.The Board meets monthly and Trustees are expected to attend all the meetings as well as all quarterly Council meetings and the VSEA Annual Meeting. Release time from work is authorized under the unit collective bargaining contract. Each Trustee is also assigned to at least one VSEA Chapter to attend meetings and provide any necessary assistance.
If you have questions regarding your letter of interest to fill the VSEA Defender General/Vermont State Housing Authority Unit Trustee seat, please contact Mary Poulos at MPoulos@VSEA.ORG.
The deadline to submit your letter of interest to fill the seat of VSEA Defender General/Vermont State Housing Authority Unit Trustee is 4:00 p.m., Thursday, March 13, 2014. Send your information to:
ERN Committee (DG/VSHA) VSEA 155 State Street Montpelier, VT. 05602
Bill To Protect Identity Of Vermonters Who Blow The Whistle On Fraud & Corruption Advances Out Of House Committee
Legislation to protect the identity of Vermonters who blow the whistle on fraud and corruption was successfully voted out of the House’s Government Operations Committee on February 20. The bill, which is backed by VSEA, was introduced early in the session by State Auditor Doug Hoffer. According to February 20 story in VTDigger, “For now, the whistleblower bill sticks to its original goal. It would allow anyone — a public employee or any member of the public — to anonymously blow the whistle on public bodies or public contractors for breaking the law, creating a threat to health or safety, or engaging in waste, fraud or abuse of authority.” The legislation still has a ways to go, but VSEA is applauding the House Committee’s vote and its endorsement of the importance of this bill.
Delta Dental Supplemental Plan Enrollment Forms In Mail Mid-April
VSEA members wanting to join Delta Dental’s Supplemental Program should keep an eye open for new enrollment forms, which will begin arriving in all VSEA members’ home boxes in mid-April. VSEA is letting members know this now because there have been numerous inquiries recently to headquarters about the program and the enrollment period. The deadline to return your enrollment form will be in May. Premium deductions from employee paychecks will begin in early June. The Supplemental Program’s new contract year begins July 1, 2014, and ends June 20, 2015.
VSEA members who already belong to the Supplemental Program will not be required to re-enroll. VSEA members who wish to leave the Program will be able to do so, using the enrollment forms that are coming in the mail.
Note: The new enrollment forms will only be made available via the mid-April mailing. The forms will not be posted on VSEA’s website.
Budget Committee Meeting
Judiciary Bargaining Team Meeting