Weekly News From Your Union February 10, 2014 – February 14, 2014
With all the news about poor road conditions in the South and Mid-Atlantic, Vermonters are privileged to have America’s best road crews. Big VSEA thanks to all our AOT members for your hard work, and thanks for keeping Vermont moving.
VSEA Lobby Day 2014 Is Tuesday, February 18!
VSEA Legislative Reception To Follow At Capitol Plaza Hotel.
VSEA’s 2014 Lobby Day at the State House is Tuesday, February 18. 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.
It’s not too late to register, and VSEA’s Legislative team has created a page where VSEA members and retirees can go to register. Please click here to register. Thanks in advance for taking time to both register and attend this important event.
Planning To Attend Lobby Day? Feel free to download your agenda, talking points, parking information and flyer:
Following VSEA Lobby Day at the State House, VSEA members will be crossing the street to attend the union’s annual Legislative Reception at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier. The popular Legislative Reception is where VSEA members and legislators are able to meet to talk with one another in a more casual and comfortable environment. Food and beverages will be provided. Hope to see you there!
Members of the VSEA Vermont State Colleges’ Bargaining Team were in Montpelier last week to sign a new contract that, for the first time ever, raises the pay of all VSEA VSC members to a “livable wage.” Pictured here (L to R), representing VSEA at the signing ceremony are Billie Langlois (Castleton State College), VSEA President Shelley Martin, Pat Moulton (Johnson State College), Janis Henderson (Unit Chair, Lyndon State) and VSEA Executive Director Mark Mitchell.
Free Press Reports On UVM Employees Firing Back At Management Over Proposed “Cost-Sharing” Plan! Group Includes Workers VSEA Is Trying To Organize
A late afternoon February 13 Free Press story reports on a meeting held that morning between workers at the University of Vermont and the University’s Benefits Advisory Council, which represented management. At the meeting, UVM workers—including a large number of clerical, technical and specialized staff that VSEA is trying to organize—took to the microphones in Carpenter Hall to denounce management’s proposed “cost-sharing” proposals that workers say amount to nothing more than “pay and benefit cuts.”
UMV management is asking its employees to consider picking up more of the costs associated with their health care plan, retirement savings plan and tuition-remission program. The employees, almost universally, are opposed to the “cost-sharing” proposals, primarily because they would hurt workers with low salaries; many of whom came to work at UVM for the benefit package and are already “struggling to make ends meet” as it is. Many UVM workers in the crowd voiced support for cutting the pay and benefits of the university’s highest-paid employees before asking all other workers to agree to cuts.
In the story, the reporter singles out the workers VSEA is attempting to organize, reporting that this group “turned out in force” for the meeting. Nice job UVM workers.
State Now Meeting With VSEA To Educate Union About EGWP Retiree Prescription Drug Proposal
On the heels of a February 10 Vermont Public Radio story about VSEA being angry with the State for going to the Legislature with proposed legislation to switch up the way VSEA retirees would receive their prescription drugs, VSEA President Shelley Martin sent the following message to VSEA members and retirees on February 12:
Some of you may have recently read in the papers, or heard on the radio, about the State of Vermont’s request to VSEA to revisit the idea of moving VSEA retired members from our current Retirement Drug Subsidy (RDS) program into what is referred to as an Employer Group Waiver Plan (EGWP), or what’s now known as an “Eggwhip” plan. These EGWP plans were created as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and they allow private- and public-sector employee groups to provide retirees, age 65 and older, with prescription drug benefits through Medicare Part D. The EGWP plan the State is talking with VSEA about would replace our retirees’ current drug benefit program, but concrete details about how an EGWP would work and what its impact on retirees might be are just now really starting to come to light.
VSEA members should know that your union’s Bargaining Team members have twice rejected the State’s EGWP proposal at the bargaining table, primarily because the State provided far too few details about what it is and what its impact would be on retirees. In fact, according to VSEA Bargaining Team members I have talked with, EGWP was simply pitched as a cost-savings measure and not much more. Without much argument, both sides mutually agreed to drop the EGWP proposal at the table, but the State did try unsuccessfully to reintroduce the proposal after both sides had shook hands on a tentative agreement. During bargaining, it is my understanding that all VSEA agreed to is to meet with the State to learn more about EGWP.
Because the State is now attempting to get this proposal enacted legislatively (and is doing so very publicly), I want VSEA members to know that your leadership has been listening to the State’s pitch in several meetings, including one last night at VSEA headquarters. VSEA is working to educate ourselves better about the concept, but that’s all we are doing right now—primarily so we can pass along what we learn to VSEA members and retirees.
In the coming days, I will be scheduling EGWP meetings with all VSEA Unit and Bargaining Team Chairs to discuss EGWP from a bargaining perspective, as I am aware that EGWP is a contract issue, not a legislative one. I will also be scheduling meetings with Express Scripts and Blue Cross/Blue Shield representatives and others to hear from them about how they process EGWP.
VSEA Members Eligible For 2014 Vermont State Colleges Staff Federation Scholarships
If you are a VSEA member—or a member’s spouse, dependent or domestic partner—you are eligible to receive one of several 2014 Vermont State Colleges Staff Federation (VSCSF) scholarship awards!
“We created this scholarship fund to help VSEA members and their spouses, dependents or domestic partners who are seeking financial assistance to pursue post-secondary educational goals at one of the following: Castleton State College, Lyndon State College, Johnson State College or Vermont Technical College,” explained VSEA member and VSCSF Scholarship Chair Monique Prive. “The rules and application form are posted on the VSEA website, and applicants need to fill them out and then send it to me. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2014.”
Note: VSCSF scholarships are not to be confused with VSEA’s annual scholarships, also being offered right now.
Information On Dental Plan Changes Coming!
One of the more notable victories to come out of VSEA’s most recent bargaining with the State was agreement to bring the costs of certain dental procedures up to 2014 reimbursement levels, as opposed the 2001 levels that are currently in use. Some members have contacted VSEA about the new rates, but, according to VSEA Research Analyst Adam Norton, they haven’t been made available yet to the union. Norton says VSEA is expecting to see the new rates in the coming months, and that they will be shared with members when available. Norton estimates that, on average, coverage-per-procedure could increase by 50% to 100%.
VSEA is applauding the swearing-in this week of Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden), who is filling the seat of his wife, Sen. Sally Fox, who sadly passed away recently after a battle with lung cancer. “There is no seat in this chamber or in this state that I would rather sit in than the seat of my lovely and beautiful wife, Sally,” Sirotkin said in his first remarks as a senator. Sirotkin is a former lobbyist with Sirotkin & Necrason; a firm whose clients include several unions.
Story Reports That Tax Loophole Means Vermont Is Losing $4.8 Million In Corporate Taxes
From the website ThinkProgress.org featured a story this week about how Montana is now putting an additional $4 million annually into its state coffers, simply by “erasing” a tax loophole called “water’s edge.” The loophole allows companies to evade state tax liability on profits by stashing profits in offshore banking accounts. Oregon followed Montana’s lead and is now expecting a $17 million this year in new tax revenue.
The story examines what other states are leaving on the table due to the “water’s edge” loophole, including Vermont, which ThinkProgress estimates is losing $4.8 million annually.
Note: Next time there’s a discussion in Vermont about how to avoid service and position cuts by generating some much-needed revenue, remind lawmakers and the State about the “water’s edge” loophole.
Presidents Day Holiday
Most State Offices & VSEA Closed
February 18 VSEA Lobby Day
February 18 VSEA Legislative Reception
Capitol Plaza Hotel
4:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Barre Chapter Meeting
The Quarry Restaurant
210 Main St.