On February 18, members of the Vermont State Employees’ Association were at the State House in Montpelier to attend VSEA Lobby Day 2014. One hour of the day was devoted to a town hall-type meeting in House chambers, where VSEA members talked about why they came to Lobby Day and the issues that are important to them and their co-workers. Please turn up your computer’s volume (sorry, the levels were low on some comments) and listen to what VSEA members had to say: Click Here To View The Video
Privatized Government Services Lead to Millions for Corporate CEOs
New Center for Media and Democracy study sheds an even brighter light on how the CEOs of private companies providing public services are making out like bandits. Included are the CEOS of some Vermont favorites like the Geo Group (read: CCA) and Maximus.
How the Government Blows Away the "Private Sector" in Delivering Services
Article highlights the pay off for using public services versus private contractors.
"In 2012, Illinois awarded the Maximus one of country’s largest private social service providers a $77 million contract to review Medicaid eligibility. A 2013 independent investigation found errors in almost 50 percent of the cases. Illinois terminated the $77 million contract last December. One analysis found state employees would save Illinois more than $18 million annually while replacing unqualified call center hires with trained caseworkers."
VSEA WEEK IN ACTION!
Weekly News From Your Union
February 24, 2014 – February 28, 2014
ESD Employees Say They Are Being Made Scapegoats For 3Squares Program’s High Error Rates
WIA readers will hopefully recall this publication’s numerous posts in the past few years about consistently high error rates plaguing Vermont’s 3Squares food stamp program. In fact, less than a decade ago, Vermont’s 3Squares Program was in the top 10 nationwide in terms of errors, but, today, the Program’s ongoing high error rates have made Vermont rank 53rd in the nation, behind even a few U.S. territories.
For more than a few years, many DCF Economic Services Division (ESD) employees administering 3Squares’ applications and benefits have complained openly about being constantly hampered by high caseloads and DCF’s over reliance on temporary employees to staff call center phones. These issues and others, say the ESD workers, are the main reasons for the high error rates, but, last Friday, some ESD workers were totally taken aback when, out of the blue, they received an e-mail from management telling them that their personal error rates were responsible for ESD’s continued poor performance. The e-mail from management read: “You have been identified as one of the 24 workers in the state responsible for a large portion of the 3SQVT errors. As such, you will need to complete the JINC and DCEX forms and have them approved by a supervisor (we discussed this at staff meeting) before approving a case. You will also be subject to overtime restrictions. Please see me with questions.” Needless to say, the employees who received this e-mail are furious and say they are being made scapegoats for the State’s failure to properly and adequately address the myriad of issues dragging down the 3Squares’ error rate, including poor system management and oversight.
“VSEA has been in contact with many of our ESD members since learning about this e-mail, and they are pretty upset,” explained VSEA Organizer Tim Boyle. “In response, the workers in almost every ESD district office have circulated a petition that denounces management’s employee scapegoating and provides some historical perspective from employees about what they say led to the high error rates. The petition has already been signed by nearly 70 percent of affected ESD workers statewide, and we’ll soon be sharing it with legislators, state officials, and others.” Boyle said VSEA is also actively working to facilitate a meeting between ESD workers and AHS Commissioner Doug Racine and Secretary of the Administration Jeb Spaulding. “The employees who received the e-mail, and most of the others who did not, want to engage in a frank discussion with these officials about this ongoing error rate issue and why the blame should not be falling on employees. We hope this can happen very soon.”
Boyle added ESD workers were dealt another blow recently when management unilaterally cancelled a Labor/Management meeting scheduled for February 21 so it could instead conduct a “training” for ESD workers.
“All the ESD employees I spoke with after the ‘training’ reported that it was nothing more than an opportunity for management to scold and lecture workers about the high error rate and other problems,” said Boyle. “This made a bad situation even worse, and, as many ESD workers rightfully pointed out to me, the regularly scheduled Labor/Management meeting would have provided a much better forum for management to talk face-to-face with frontline employees about the issues —especially if, as some managers claim, this is a crisis situation. By all counts, the training served no purpose, other than to inflame the situation.”
The rescheduled Labor/Management meeting will not take place until the end of March, which will result in many critical issues remaining undiscussed and unresolved for another month, while problems within the Division continue to mount.
For some historical perspective on the ESD situation, WIA is re-publishing this commentary from the November 24, 2010, Brattleboro Reformer:
Budgets Cut, People Bleed
The next time you hear a politician say, "We will not make budget cuts that hurt the most vulnerable among us," ask them about the Vermont Department of Children and Families/Economic Services Division efforts to modernize its application, eligibility and enrollment programs for the public programs it administers, including health care programs. "Modernize" has turned out to be a euphemism for the potentially fatal budget cuts that have harmed the lives of Vermonters. One of those modernization efforts has been to partially eliminate the human-to-human method of case management and turn it into an encounter in voice mail hell.
In years past, someone who was receiving any of a variety of essential human service support from the state would be able to make contact with a case manager, a real person who knew the system and who could help someone apply for benefits and stay with that person for the long run.
Now, when a person looking for state services make that first call, instead of being assigned a case manager or being able to have a consistent relationship with a knowledgeable person, they are required to deal with an automated voice mail system.
In an effort to save money the state has created call centers. Data for the week ending Oct. 22 indicate the average wait time on the phone was 7 minutes and the longest wait time was 27 minutes. The most alarming statistic is that 18 percent of people who call hang up before they get an answer.
According to one of my sources who has a long history of working with state programs and who directly asked state officials how they are dealing with these kinds of delays and problems, "The Department (of Children and Families) continues to say it has taken steps to address these issues, but these steps are not working and the problems are getting worse. The department has been saying for weeks that it has hired temporary staff and has staff working overtime and weekends. However, because the caseloads keep growing and new staff has to be trained, there has been no improvement. These steps are not adequate to resolve the problems. The number of incoming applications and case loads are too high. These delays are a clear example of the effect on Vermonters of the budget-cutting of the last few years, eliminating too many state workers."
"There are no longer enough state staff to handle the volume of work. It seems clear that new staff must be permanently hired and trained, and unfortunately, it takes a significant amount of time to train new staff on the various programs. The Department does not appear to be entertaining this as an option."
Then there are the resulting problems when people actually file an application for a health care program such as Catamount or VHAP. State and federal law requires that the state must make a decision on a new application within 30 days, but my sources tell me that this is only happening in 63 percent of cases. The delays are so bad that for the week ending Oct. 22, 21 percent of applications were taking 31-35 days and 16 percent took over 45 days.
This is a situation begging for a law suit. I have heard of cases where people applied for VHAP or Catamount health insurance and then were told their application was denied because it was not processed in the required 30 days. The delay was the fault of the state, not the applicant. The state claims they are working to resolve these problems, but some of their solutions seem like they will only create more frustration for those in need who are applying for help. If the intent of the state was to frustrate people so they would give up and not apply for benefits then they have succeeded.
State workers do carry caseloads but they are no longer geographically based. Someone in Brattleboro who applies for food stamps will have their application processed by a food stamp expert who could be based anywhere in the state and, if the same person also applies for VHAP, they will have to deal with another state worker somewhere else in the state.
Then there are the "community partners" plans. It is a way for the state to administer services in the most haphazard way possible without having to pay for the help. The state has asked community organizations and non-profits to help people with the application process for state programs.
When common sense is cast aside and the politics of budget cutting has a higher priority than the needs of vulnerable Vermonters, this is the mess we end up with. We can only hope that the new…administration will take a close look at this situation and figure out how to fix it.
We can still maintain fiscal discipline while not shredding the state’s social safety net. That is a challenge we can rise to meet.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at email@example.com.
Correction: VSEA Sept. 12 Council Meeting Is At The Killington Grand!
VSEA First Vice President Michelle Salvador asked WIA to correct last week’s entry about upcoming Council meetings. The September 12 VSEA Council is being held at the Killington Grand Hotel; one day in advance of VSEA’s 70th Annual Meeting at the same location. WIA incorrectly reported that the meeting would be at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier. Please note the date and location.
VSEA Leaders Hear From NEA, State & Blue Cross/Blue Shield On EGWP
VSEA leaders and staff met on February 26 with the State Treasurer and representatives of the State, the National Education Association (NEA) and Blue Cross/Blue Shield to continue the education process about Employee Group Waiver Plans (EGWP). The State is asking VSEA members and retirees to consider switching the state employees’ retiree prescription drug plan to an EGWP (a.k.a. “eggwhip”) plan, which is a federally administered prescription drug program created as part of Medicare Part D. The State is telling VSEA that the switch—coupled with an assurance that the State would provide “wrap-around” protection—will provide VSEA retirees with prescription drug benefits “at least equal to those of the plan [the State] currently offers.”
The meeting began with an explanation from the NEA’s Mark Hage about how the switch is working so far for NEA retirees, who were moved into an EGWP that officially launched on January 1, 2014. Hage said that after one month of close monitoring, everything is going pretty smoothly, labeling the transition “seamless.” He added that the NEA “is convinced its retirees are being well served.” A couple of things Hage said did catch the attention of VSEA representatives, especially the revelation that the NEA engaged in two years of “detailed planning” prior to its retirees making the switch to an EGWP. VSEA, however, has not been afforded this luxury; a point not lost on meeting attendees VSEA President Shelley Martin, VSEA Retiree Chapter President Joanie Maclay and VSEA Benefits Advisory Committee Chair Dave Bellini. Hage also said that Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the NEA are using Caremark to provide NEA retirees with prescription drugs, and not Express Scripts; the company currently providing VSEA members and retirees with prescription drugs. This triggered a lot of discussion because, according to State officials in the room, Express Scripts won’t allow the State to offer a wrap-around on Medicare Part D “non-preferred” prescription drugs. Caremark, however, said Blue Cross/Blue Shield representatives and Hage, does allow a wrap-around on non-preferred prescription drugs. State officials said they would get back to VSEA with clarification on this issue.
In addition to hearing directly from Hage, VSEA representatives were able to ask Blue Cross/Blue Shield representatives a lot of questions about formulary templates and claim processing, but President Martin says she and others still need to learn much more about EGWPs before they can talk coherently and directly with VSEA members and retirees about the option.
“This meeting was a good start to what I believe is going to be a lengthy education process, and we’ve only really begun to scratch the surface of what’s all involved here,” explained Martin. “It’s very complicated and that’s why VSEA will be asking for more of these meetings. VSEA leadership agreed to hear the State’s pitch, but nothing more is going to come of this discussion until we understand the EGWP concept wholly—and its potential impact on VSEA retirees.”
On The House Side:
Budget Update – The House Appropriations Committee is in the process of marking up the FY2015 budget, and it should be passed out of the House by March 14 “crossover.”
Whistleblower Protection – H. 863 is a committee bill introduced by the House Government Operations Committee that would protect the identity of state employees who report fraud and corruption to the Auditor. This means that state employees can make anonymous reports to the Auditor. H. 863 passed out of committee and moved to the House floor. The bill passed the House on February 27, 2014, and it now goes to the Senate.
Quarterly Reporting of Assaults on Corrections Officers – H. 713 was introduced in the House and referred to the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, where Rep. Thomas Terenzini (a DOC employee for 30 years) testified this week in support of the bill. The committee decided that the assault reports should be provided to the Corrections Oversight Committee, which meets year round. The Committee will be sending a letter to the Corrections Oversight Committee, urging it to request that it receive the DOC assault reports four times a year.
Relocation Policy – The House Corrections and Institutions Committee included language in the Capitol Bill that in the event the administration decides to relocate state employees, the Secretary of the Administration will ensure that the change requires management to engage frontline employees in the design and planning of the new workspace.
Agency of Natural Resources Lab Location – The House Corrections and Institutions Committee also included language concerning the location of the new ANR lab. Among other things, the language requires ANR to develop a proposal for the site location with preference given to the following locations in order of: property located in the Waterbury State Office Complex or on Colchester Avenue in the City of Burlington, State-owned property, and non-State-owned property. The proposal will be presented on or before September 15, 2014.
Paid Sick Days – H. 208 would allow all employees the opportunity to earn paid sick leave. This bill was passed out of the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs and then referred to the House Appropriations Committee, where it is unlikely to be considered.
Fair Compensation in Higher Education Act– Representative John Moran introduced this bill that calls for a livable wage for all State College employees as well as a limit on executive pay and “golden parachutes.” Rep. Moran also testified in front of the House Government Operations Committee where the bill was referred.
Law Enforcement Officers and the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council – H. 753 would allow the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Center to deny officer certification and impose disciplinary action. It was introduced and referred to the House Government Operations Committee.
Placing Liquor Control Officers in Department of Public Safety – H. 671 would move all Liquor Control Officers to the Department of Public Safety. This bill will likely be taken up by the House Government Operations Committee.
EGWP H. 669 – VSEA met with the Treasurer Beth Pearce, HR Commissioner Kate Duffy, Blue Cross Blue shield and a representative of Vermont NEA to discuss EGWP. It was made clear that we have a limited amount of time to make a determination reach resolution on this issue.
On the Senate Side:
Restoring Adequate State College Funding – S. 40 is a bill that will restore State College’ funding to the level that it was at in the 1980’s received a hearing in the House Committee on Education.
Grievance Arbitration – VSEA Attorneys Vivian Schmitter and Rebecca McBroom testified in the Senate Economic Development Housing, and General Affairs Committee on S. 241. The Committee will most likely schedule another hearing for this bill.
Temporary Employees – VSEA and the State are currently meeting about S. 218 in hopes of reaching an agreement on the bill that both parties can support. The chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee also hopes the parties will be able to come to an agreement.
Early Retirement for Dispatchers – S. 225 was voted out of the Senate Government Operations Committee. It was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where the bill is having rough sledding. The State testified against the bill during this week’s hearing. Grassroots efforts led by the dispatchers are underway to try and educate the committee members. The Treasurer is also writing a letter to the committee in support of the dispatchers.
Judiciary Unit Begins Bargaining On March 7
On the heels of several VSEA Units’ recent contract ratifications, VSEA’s Judiciary Unit is set to begin formal bargaining with the State on Friday, March 7. For weeks now, VSEA Judiciary Unit Chair Margaret Crowley and Bargaining Team members Beth Aiken (Washington), Kathy Rotondi (Berlin), Cindy Foster (Berlin), Keith Kennedy (Chittenden), Shannon Bessery (Chittenden), and Evan Hill (Grand Isle), have been meeting to formulate proposals and prioritize and strategize. VSEA wishes the Judiciary Bargaining Team good luck in negotiations.
VSEA NEK/St. J Chapter Seeking Donations For Local Food Shelves
VSEA’s NEK/St. Johnsbury Chapter is seeking member donations to help out local food shelves. The Chapter has placed collection boxes in three locations, including Ellen Hinman’s office at Forests, Parks & Recreation and in Dianne River’s and Monique Prive’s office at Lyndon State College.
If you are willing to have a collection box in your office, please let the Chapter know so it can announce the location and send you a sign to put on your box. The Chapter will match any cash donation up to $500. To request a collection box, or ask a question, please contact Dianne Rivers at 626-6497 or e-mail at Dianne.firstname.lastname@example.org or Monique.email@example.com. Thank you.
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 is 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
Send a Message to CCTA: Drivers’ Working Conditions Are the Public’s Safety Conditions
Image courtesy of burlingtonfreepress.com
The “We Stand With the CCTA Bus Drivers Solidarity Committee” asked WIA to share the following with VSEA members:
Last weekend management walked out on negotiations with the CCTA bus drivers, who are members of Teamsters Local 597. Why? Because management—on top of seeking to increase the number of part-time drivers and forcing drivers into long and tiring days—wants the right to harass and threaten the drivers, creating a work environment that is hostile, degrading, and damaging.
We depend on CCTA drivers for safe transport—for ourselves, for our loved ones—to school and to work. We depend on CCTA drivers to keep the road safe for everyone on it. Now the CCTA drivers are depending on us to send a message: We want a humane and respectful contract for the CCTA bus drivers!
Please send a message to CCTA Board of Commissioners’ chair Tom Buckley: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also copy your message to your town’s CCTA commissioner, your select board or city council and mayor, and your legislators. Tell them: If the drivers have to walk, it’s because management walked out on negotiations. If the drivers are forced to strike on March 10, you stand with them, and you’re counting on our public officials to do the right thing: Order CCTA management back to the table to negotiate a humane and respectful contract now.
1. CCTA drivers like all of us want a quality life, not long work days from early morning to late evening, often with poor breaks and many times being forced to work overtime.
2. CCTA drivers do not want to see full-time jobs being turned into part-time work.
3. CCTA drivers are constantly spied on, followed, pulled in for small issues, and threatened with suspension. They drive your buses in a state of fear, looking over their shoulders and not at the road. They want a contract that will protect them from disciplinary abuse.
4. CCTA drivers want to drive, management wants them to walk. Drivers want their contract honored and to be treated with respect.
We support the drivers’ demands for better scheduling, sustainable jobs, and limits on management’s ability to harass and persecute individuals. We’re on this road together. We don’t want to see our bus drivers tired and stressed out!
VSEA Applauds Senate Committee’s Vote Supporting Right Of Early Childhood Educators To Organize
VSEA is applauding news of yesterday’s 22-8 vote by the Vermont Senate to allow early childhood educators the right to organize. The American Federation of Teachers has waged a years-long campaign to win this right for early childhood educators, and the Senate’s initial strong vote of approval bodes well for the legislation, which now has one more Senate vote before moving to the House. Responding to news of the vote, AFT Lobbyist Heather Reimer told VTDigger: “This is a really great day for providers across the state of Vermont. They have been fighting for four years to have the same right as teachers and firefighters to come together to negotiate to make early education better for the families they serve.” Good luck the rest of the way early childhood educators!
Town Meeting Day
Most State Offices & VSEA Closed