Weekly News From Your Union ~ February 3, 2014 – February 7, 2014
Still Time To Register For VSEA Lobby Day 2014. More Than 130 Already Registered!
Just a little more than a week until VSEA’s 2014 Lobby Day at the State House, and already 131 VSEA members and retirees have registered to attend. Lobby Day is where VSEA members can meet face-to-face with their legislators to educate them about the work you do, the service you provide and the issues/challenges confronting the employees doing the work. VSEA retirees are able to convey their pension and health care concerns, as well as voice their support for important VSEA legislative agenda items.
Please mark February 18 on your calendars and make plans now to attend VSEA Lobby Day 2014. VSEA’s Legislative team has created a page where VSEA members and retirees can go to register to attend the union’s 2014 Lobby Day at the State House. Please click here to register. Thanks in advance for taking time to both register and attend this important event.
Here is a tentative agenda for Lobby Day (subject to change):
Breakfast, Sign-In, Name Tags/T-shirt
Introductions, Room 10
Public Hearing On The Budget
Lunch, Room 10
Press Event, Cedar Creek Room
12: 45 p.m.
Update From VSEA Legislative Committee
Write Notes To Lawmakers & State Officials
Health Care Discussion
Retirement Discussion w/State Treasurer
2014 Election Overview
Meet w/State Auditor
Meet w/Secretary of State
Training/How To Talk w/Lawmakers
4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.
2014 VSEA Legislative Reception @ Capital Plaza
Give VSEA Your Home E-mail And Be Entered To Win One Free Night At Killington Grand For 2014 VSEA Annual Meeting!
The VSEA Special Events Committee is offering all active members a chance to stay for free at the Killington Grand Hotel on Friday night, September 12, 2014. All members have to do to qualify for a chance is simply provide headquarters with your current home e-mail address, which you can do quickly here. The Friday date was chosen because VSEA will be conducting its Annual meeting at the hotel on September 12 and 13, and the Committee is requiring that the winner must attend Annual Meeting (which, if you’ve never attended, is your union’s annual gathering to conduct important VSEA business and decide the union’s goals and direction). If you’re an active member who has already provided headquarters with your home e-mail, you must re-submit your information in order to be eligible for the free night at the Killington Grand.
Again, to be entered for a chance to stay for free at the Killington Grand on September 12, please provide VSEA headquarters with your current home e-mail address by clicking here!
Non-Management & Defender General Units Ratify New Contracts!
VSEA issued the following press release on Tuesday, February 4:
Members of the Vermont State Employee Association’s (VSEA) Election, Rules and Nominating (ERN) Committee counted ballots yesterday at union headquarters and announced the ratification of new contracts by VSEA members belonging to the union’s Non-Management (NMU) and Defender General Units.
“VSEA is extremely pleased that our members belonging to the union’s Defender General and Non-Management Units have voted in large numbers to ratify new contracts with the State,” said VSEA President Shelley Martin, adding, “The NMU vote is especially gratifying because this Unit is VSEA’s largest, representing a very diverse group of workers across Vermont, many of whom have competing interests or different priorities. But thanks to the hard work of our elected, rank-and-file NMU Bargaining Team members, many of the new agreement’s adopted contract proposals reflect changes that benefit all VSEA NMU members, primarily by improving their wages and benefits. To VSEA’s NMU members—and to our Defender General Unit members—these new agreements are the State’s recognition of their dedication and the valuable contributions they make to Vermont each and every day”
Martin added that NMU negotiators were also able to bargain shift differential increases that were important to a lot of NMU workers, and she was especially pleased with some of the contract improvements negotiated for VSEA Agency of Transportation (AOT) workers.
“The State really acknowledged the importance of VSEA-represented AOT workers in this round of bargaining,” explained Martin. “They were awarded an increase in snow season compensation pay, reimbursement for the purchase of boots, a tool allowance increase, reimbursement for tools that are lost due to no fault of the worker, and three additional t-shirts.” She added, “Vermont AOT workers are the best in the nation, and these contract improvements are well-deserved recognition for their hard work.”
VSEA’s Non-Management Unit represents approximately 5,000 state employees and the Defender General Unit represents approximately 20 employees. Both Units’ ratification votes come just a few weeks after VSEA members belonging to the union’s Corrections, Supervisory and State Colleges’ Unit also voted to ratify new contracts with the State.
VSEA Judiciary Bargaining Team Sits Down At Table For First Meeting With CAO
In advance of formal negotiations, members of the VSEA Judiciary Bargaining Team were at headquarters today to hold the Team’s first meeting with the Court Administrative Office (CAO). At the meeting, Team members discussed ground rules for upcoming negotiations, worked to schedule bargaining dates with the CAO and exchanged requests for documents and information. The Team will be sending updates to Unit members throughout the bargaining process.
Judiciary bargaining information meetings continue next week for all Unit members. To see when and where, please see “Upcoming Meetings/Events” at the bottom of WIA.
VSEA Legislative Committee Chair Testifies In Support Of Statutory Language Mandating Employee Involvement In Decision-Making Process Around Building Moves
VSEA’s Steve Howard and Leslie Matthews testify on Feb. 6
VSEA Legislative Committee Chair Dr. Leslie Matthews and VSEA Legislative Director Steve Howard testified on February 6 to the House Corrections and Institutions Committee about VSEA and state employees’ desire for statutory language to mandate that management include employees early-on in the process when decisions about moves and new employee workspace are being made.
As examples of where this kind of employee input would have been helpful, Matthews pointed to the recent move of hundreds workers to National Life following Irene, the upcoming move of Agency of Education employees to Barre and the upcoming move of St. Albans employees.
"If you engage frontline staff early in the moving process, we believe this will result in better decisions being made in the long run," testified Matthews, adding, "We really have a desire to be partners with the State, and we believe that by working together, we can save taxpayers some money."
Matthews and Howard also discussed the issues around moves that workers at National Life identified in a survey (lack of privacy and space being big ones), and they shared copies of a recent petition signed by workers in St. Albans that asks the State for more input into planning discussions around the employees’ upcoming move. Matthews also touched on the need for improved communication about moves between management and frontline employees.
The Committee was non-committal at this time, but they did acknowledge that the issue warrants more discussion, possibly in other Legislative Committees. WIA will keep you updated!
State Moving To Enhance Security & Safety At 108 Cherry Street State Office Building
In the wake of a decision to begin sending General Assistance clients to the State Office Building at 108 Cherry Street in Burlington, VSEA members working in the building were pleased to learn this week that the State is working to address many of their security and safety concerns.
In a January 31 e-mail, the State’s Director of Property Management Bill LaFerriere lists the steps he says will be taken to improve the building’s security, including:
BGS Security will investigate the possibility of getting a sworn officer from the Sheriff’s Department to be at 108 Cherry Street on Mondays and Fridays, or the two weekdays when there is high client volume;
BGS Security will work with existing “contract guards” at 108 Cherry Street on “coverage” and enhanced methods to interact with clients. When three guards are inside, steps will be taken to ensure the “spare” guard is present at the “active station” to support that guard and be visible to the public;
A sign will be placed directly in front of the building’s entrance, warning “No Weapons Allowed” in large type and at eye level;
BGS will work with the sheriffs to evaluate what capability exists for drug detection (i.e. canines);
Camera options will be reviewed and costs explored;
The building’s waiting room configurations will be reviewed and enhanced to accommodate clients better; and
Security protocols will be reviewed with U.S. Security personnel.
“This is welcome news for many employees working at 108 Cherry Street, and VSEA appreciates the State’s response to the workers’ concerns,” said VSEA Union Representative Kelly Burns. “Ensuring that the public is safe and that employees are safe must always be a top priority.”
Move To Protect Whistleblower’s Identity May Lead To Broader Discussion About Retaliation Against State Employees
The Associated Press reports on February 2 that some lawmakers want to learn more about the finding from a recent VSEA-sponsored whistleblower survey that a “culture of retaliation” does exist in state government and is alive and well in numerous Vermont state office buildings. The State Auditor provided VSEA’s whistleblower survey (which was completed by 600-plus VSEA members) to the House Government Operations Committee as a supplement to his call for statutory language to protect the identity of working Vermonters who blow the whistle on fraud and corruption.
“[VSEA’s] survey found ‘significant concern that if employees come forward and tell the public and tell legislators what’s happening on the front lines … they will be retaliated against,’" VSEA Legislative Director Steve Howard testified to the Committee.
On the down side, AP reports that Committee Chair Rep. Donna Sweaney (D-Windsor) said the Committee is unlikely to delve into toughening laws against retaliation this year, but, on the plus side, she said she thought the panel would “tackle the Auditor’s request.”
The Auditor told the Committee that after reviewing a year’s worth of complaints to his office, "almost no state employees" were among those bringing concerns.
"That doesn’t make any sense to me because they’re the ones who know the most about what’s going on in state government," the Auditor testified, adding, “Problems in state government will remain hidden unless we make a safe place to talk about it, and I see that as part of my job."
VSEA Corrections Unit Chair & Board of Trustees’ Member Dave Bellini Pens Letter To The Editor On Paid Sick Days
VSEA Corrections Unit Chair and Board of Trustees’ member Dave Bellini penned this letter to the editor that appeared in the February 4 Times Argus:
"There’s legislation pending that would give workers paid sick days. I’m writing to support this. As a longtime state employee with benefits, I witness the increasing use of correctional officers hired as temporary help. Except that the work is permanent. Corrections work is demanding and dangerous. When I recently asked…about the use of temporary correctional officers, [I was] told we get more "bang for the buck" using temporary help.
What [this] means is: it’s cheaper to hire people and not provide any benefits like sick days or health insurance. But didn’t we elect someone who cares [about health care for all Vermonters] and wants to do the right thing?
Hiring correctional officers as temporary help actually increases cost, however. Temporary turnover is high, and this creates huge overtime and training costs. No bang for the buck."
VSEA BGS Custodians Write Commissioner About Desire To Implement Mold Removal Protocol!
A majority of the custodians working for Buildings and General Services at 120 State Street sent a letter this week to BGS Commissioner Michael Obuchowski, requesting to meet with him to discuss their desire for a mold removal protocol. The request was sparked by one custodian’s two-year struggle to remove stubborn, reoccurring mold from the Pavilion Building’s basement area.
Prefacing their request with “Custodians require work policies that best guarantee our continuing good health,” the group is asking for the following to be included in any new mold removal protocol:
When a BGS employee becomes aware of mold, s/he will report the issue to their supervisor who will then report it to a designated BGS Health and Safety Officer. This officer will evaluate the mold situation and advise the appropriate BGS supervisor on whether the mold should be removed by BGS custodians or by another qualified professional;
No mold removal work on an area five-foot square or larger should ever be assigned to a BGS custodian who has not completed a comprehensive Hazard Communication Training Program or Respiratory Protection Program;
If a BGS custodian(s) complete the programs listed in the above bullet point, BGS may assign mold removal work on areas five-foot square and larger, but the process must be done following all VOSHA and OSHA recommended safety precautions;
If a BGS custodian(s) has not completed the programs listed in bullet point two, s/he may be assigned to remove “trivial” amounts (less than five-feet square) of mold, provided the following conditions are met:
If a trivial amount of mold is identified in a State facility, BGS custodians will be instructed by supervisor/manager to wear disposable gloves. This will be mandatory. The supervisor/manager must also clearly recommend the use of a respirator, but its use is optional.
Disposable gloves and respirators will be made readily available to all custodians, and they will be kept in multiple storage closets. The closet locations will be furnished to all custodians.
Custodians will be trained in the safe and effective use of respirators and disposable gloves, as well as all other safety precautions related to mold removal.
Any basic mold removal training will include a basic understanding of the potential adverse medical conditions that could result from exposure to toxic mold or the unforeseen allergic reactions that could result from working with mold.
No custodian will be tasked with removing mold unless and until s/he has received proper basic training.
Custodians who become ill, or who suffer an adverse reaction, as a result of mold removal or working with chemicals used to treat mold, will be required to immediately report his/her symptoms to their supervisor/manager. In turn, affected custodian(s) will be removed from the mold removal project until their safety can be ensured, both through an assessment of the mold type being removed and an assessment of the likelihood the affected custodian is suffering an allergic reaction to a non-toxic mold.
When BGS adopts a mold removal protocol, it will be formalized in writing and made available to all BGS custodians tasked with mold removal; and
Nothing in this BGS mold removal protocol will supersede existing VOSHA mold removal safety recommendations. In instances where VOSHA recommendations surpass the suggested BGS protocol, the VOSHA standards will prevail.
The BGS custodians sent their request to the BGS Commissioner this week and asked for a reply within seven days of receipt.
Time’s Running Out To Register To Attend The VT Workers’ Center’s 2014 “Solidarity School”
Want to learn more about how working Vermonters can come together to build a more powerful labor movement statewide? The Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) wants to help.
The VWC Solidarity School is a two-day seminar, where participants are taught the different skill sets needed to bring more and more working Vermonters together and get them active and engaged on the issues that matter to all workers in our state. There are also sessions to teach workers how to coordinate with local community leaders to promote and advance common issues and concerns. In the past six years, more than 250 union and community leaders have graduated from the program.
The VWC Solidarity School is being held February 15 and 16 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 294 N. Winooski Ave. in Burlington.
For more information, please click here. To register, please click here
Bylaws Committee Meeting