Weekly News From Your Union ~ January 27, 2014 – January 31, 2014
Pictured here are some of the VSEA members who showed up last Friday to support a contract campaign kick-off event by faculty members at the University of Vermont. VSEA and the AFT thank all the members who participated.
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!
VSEA President Testifies In Support Of Paid Sick Days For All Working Vermonters
VSEA President Shelley Martin gave powerful testimony in support of paid sick days for all working Vermonters.
Room 11 at the State House was practically bursting at the seams on January 30, as a mass of Vermonters assembled to provide public testimony to lawmakers about the need to provide paid sick days to all working Vermonters. As expected, there were some business interests in the room who testified against the legislation, but they were far outnumbered by the working Vermonters testifying in support the legislation, including VSEA retiree Joan Eckely and VSEA President Shelley Martin, who delivered these remarks to lawmakers: “My name is Shelley Martin; I am an administrative assistant in the Agency of Natural Resources where I have served Vermonters for 15 years. I am the President of the Vermont State Employees Association, representing 5400 members who work hard every day on behalf of your constituents.
I am here to say we strongly support the passage of earned sick days. We believe the passage of this proposal is morally the right thing to do, good for the economy, and smart public policy.
I speak from my own experience: nine months after being hired to work for the State of VT I was diagnosed with cancer. My illness (having had cancer twice), treatments, and surgeries required me to miss many days of work at a time. If I did not have the use of paid sick days I would have most definitely lost my car, my home, and my medical insurance; becoming a burden to the State of Vermont as I would have been forced to seek public assistance on many levels. Because I was able to have paid sick days, I had an income and therefore was able to concentrate on the fight to survive. I still worked when not at the doctors, in the hospital, or recuperating from surgery so was able to not seek State assistance on any level. Today I am healthy without medication of any kind and am able to contribute to Vermont, its citizens as a public servant, and to fellow State Employees. For me, having paid sick days clearly shows how it was morally the right thing to do, was good for the economy of the state, and a very smart public policy.
Today, nearly 2,000 positions in state government (that is approximately 20%) are staffed by temporary workers.These are workers who guard our prisons, greet the public each and every day, and process applications for low income neighbors – along with many other job duties.Temporary workers do not receive paid sick days – in fact, temporary workers are not provided benefits at all. As a result, many come to work sick – spreading their sickness – because they simply cannot afford to stay home. This is not only unfair and wrong to coworkers and the public – but it also bad policy. Personally as a cancer survivor, I sometimes was forced to wear a mask to work for fear of becoming sick at a time when it could have literarily worsened my chances to survive. Sick employees that come to work for the state of Vermont or any private business is truly a public health disaster – which in the case of the state’s workforce – leads not only to higher health care costs, lost productivity, but even at times sparks a need for public assistance. I strongly urge you to support this important bill.”
Highlights From The Last Two Weeks Of The Legislative Session:
DMH/New Berlin Facility – The Department of Mental Health released a new staffing plan for the Berlin Facility last Thursday. Legislators in the House Human services Committee heard testimony about the plan from DMH officials and requested input from VSEA. Members working in the Department of Mental Health are encouraged to provide feedback here:
ESD Error Rates – VSEA testified in support of a bill that would hold families harmless who overpaid their SNAP benefits. VSEA highlighted some of the concerns around the ESD benefits process management and reiterated to the House Human Services committee what the ESD Labor Management Committee has repeatedly told management. Specifically, VSEA explained the issue of “too many cooks in the kitchen,” where too many people are working on the same case at once. VSEA also explained to the committee that this is the primary reason for the high error rates; not employee incompetence.
Temporary Worker Bill– The Senate Gov Ops committee heard further testimony this past Tuesday on the Temporary Workers bill. VSEA presented the following summary of the bill:
The clock starts to runs on the day the temporary employee is hired for 365 days, instead of January 1.
Maximum time a temporary worker can work would go from 1520 hours in a calendar year to 1040 hours in a 365 day period.
When a temporary employee reaches the maximum number of hours (be it 1520 or 1040; to be determined), then the administration is obligated to inform the General Assembly if it is in session or JFO if the General Assembly is not in session. The decision can be made at that time whether to create a classified, permanent full-time or part-time position, or a limited service position for a determined number of years. The point is the Vermont Legislature makes the decision.
Provide temporary state employees with prorated sick days. One hour for every 30 hours worked.
Telecommuting Bill– Rep. Curt McCormack introduced a bill that would require the State to identify positions in State government that are eligible for telecommuting and inform the employees in these positions of the telecommuting option. The employee could then choose the option of whether or not to telework. Representative McCormack also testified in front of the House General, Housing, and Millitary Affairs committee where the bill was assigned to.
Grievance Arbitration – The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee and the Senate Economic Development, General and Housing Affairs heard further testimony from VSEA about this bill, which would allow the State and VSEA to bargain for the option to have grievances handled by arbitration.
Next Week’s Issues (so far):
Advocating for a process that includes and treats state employees as partners when the State is making decisions or plans related to State office building moves
Monitoring H. 669; the bill that would move retirees into an EGWP prescription drug plan (see separate EGWP WIA entry below)
Advancing anti-privatization legislation that seeks to promote responsible contracting
Monitoring the development of whistleblower protection bill in the House Government Operations Committee
Monitoring the Capital Budget Bill and the State’s proposed FY2015 budget
VSEA Retirees’ Chapter Schedules Monday Phone Bank To Begin Mobilizing Retirees Around EGWP Issue
The VSEA Retirees’ Chapter is beginning to mobilize to try to prevent the passage of a legislative proposal by the State that, if passed, would move VSEA retired members out of the state employee drug plan for the first time in 40 years into what is known as an Employer Group Waiver Plan (EGWP), or an “Eggwhip” plan.
The State proposed EGWP in each of the past two contract negotiations (2011 and 2013) and settled both contracts without EGWP. VSEA believes that the State is now trying to end-run the collective bargaining process by trying to achieve through legislation what it could not get through collective bargaining.
The EGWP concept is the result of a deal that the Obama Administration made with major drug manufacturers. The manufacturers agreed to provide rebates or subsidies to over-65 individuals if the administration would use their brand drugs, instead of generics. Normally the subsidies would come back to the individual but in a group plan the subsidies come back to the plan. This is the financial incentive to private- and public-sector employers to move retirees, age 65 and older, into prescription drug plans through Medicare Part D.
There are serious red flags. The EGWP would replace VSEA retirees’ current drug benefit program. Retirees would lose control of their drug formulary, which is currently negotiated through collective bargaining. The federal government would dictate which drugs are covered and which are not, and the feds can change the formulary at any time. The program would be administered through the federal government, or its proxy, and retirees would lose their direct contact with the State for prescription drug problems.
The State currently receives about $3.2 million annually through a mechanism called RDS, and that money is already being placed into a separate fund to offset future retiree costs, without moving retirees into an inferior federally run drug plan.
While the State is quick to point to an EGWP plan potentially saving an additional $1.2 million, VSEA and the Retirees’ Chapter are not convinced this dollar amount is correct. In fact, VSEA’s analysis found the savings to be roughly half the State’s purported amount. More troubling are VSEA’s other identified downsides to EGWP, which include the loss of automatic generic substitutions for prescriptions. Generics save retirees hundreds of dollars each year. The plan would lose of hundreds of thousands of dollars of guaranteed discounts from Express Scripts (our current prescription provider). And worst of all, VSEA does not support turning over a collectively bargained benefit to politicians in Washington D.C.
Retirees’ Chapter Hosting 2/3 Lobby Day Mobilization Phone Bank!
On Monday, February 3, VSEA Retirees’ Chapter President Joan Maclay is hosting a phone bank at VSEA headquarters, beginning at 10:00 a.m. and going until 4:00 p.m. Maclay is looking for volunteers to help her contact VSEA retirees to urge them to attend VSEA’s February 18 Lobby Day at the State House, where retirees can let lawmakers know face-to-face how they feel about the State’s ill-advised EGWP proposal. Maclay is also providing lunch to all retiree phone bankers.
“We need as many VSEA retirees as possible to come to the State House to participate in Lobby Day,” said Retirees’ Chapter President Joan Maclay. “I hope some VSEA retirees can make some time on Monday to join me to phone bank other retirees about this important event and our opposition to this egg whip proposal.”
Maclay is asking VSEA retirees who want to help the Retirees’ Chapter with phone banking on Monday to please contact her at email@example.com, by phone at 999-8082, or simply show up at headquarters.
Bargaining Information Meetings Scheduled For Judiciary Unit Members
VSEA Judiciary Unit Chair Margaret Crowley announced this week that, beginning Tuesday, February 4, Judiciary Unit Bargaining Team members, Stewards, and VSEA representatives will be holding lunchtime meetings across Vermont to talk with Judiciary employees about upcoming bargaining with the State. Meeting participants will find out:
What does it mean to be in a union?
Who are the members of your Judiciary Bargaining Team?
How does bargaining work?
How will we win the improvements we need?
Here are the Judiciary Unit meeting dates, times and locations: Tuesday, February 4 –Burlington Meeting @ Costello Courthouse
Wednesday, February 5 – Barre/Berlin Meeting @ Knapp Airport
Thursday, February 6 – Barre Meeting @ Washington Criminal Division
Tuesday, February 11 – White River Junction Meeting @ 82 Railroad Row
Wednesday, February 12 – Rutland Meeting @ To Be Announced
Thursday, February 13 – Montpelier Meeting @ Sunshine Room, 111 State St.
Wednesday, February 19 – Newport Meeting @ Civil Division, 247 Main St.
Thursday, February 20 – St. Albans Meeting @ To Be Announced
Friday, February 21 — Bennington Meeting @ Criminal Division, 200 Vet. Memorial Dr.
Additional Locations @ To Be Announced
All Meetings Begin At Noon – Please Bring Your Lunch
Questions? More Information? Please Contact
VSEA Judicial Unit Chair Margaret Crowley at firstname.lastname@example.org or VSEA Field Representative Brian Morse, (802) 793-0064 or email@example.com.
St. Albans VSEA Members Meet With State Officials To Discuss Move To New Building
VSEA members who work at the State Office Building at 20 Houghton Street in St. Albans are mobilizing now to ensure their voices are included in planning discussions about the new workspace on Federal Street they are scheduled to move to in January 2015.
On January 30, approximately 50 state employees who work at the building had the opportunity to personally meet with Secretary of the Administration Jeb Spaulding and AHS Secretary Doug Racine to discuss their concerns about the move, as well as their hopes for the move. Workers were also able to ask questions about the move.
The St. Albans workers presented a letter to Secretary Racine, expressing their dedication to the AHS mission and asking to be treated as equal partners in discussions about new building construction and the workers’ subsequent move. “We believe that our collective expertise will serve the State well as it works to design a space that maximizes the public’s investment and eliminates barriers to providing exceptional services to the client community that relies on us,” read the letter.
The workers also included a list of concerns about the project in their letter, identifying worries about the design of waiting rooms and child visitation rooms and needing to adhere to HIPPA’s privacy requirements as primary concerns. The workers also ask for an equal distribution of “growth space” across all Departments and for an adequate number of restrooms to be built.
All in all, workers felt the meeting was productive, and Racine said he would try to facilitate a meeting soon for them with the new building architects so the workers can discuss their concerns and ideas directly with them. WIA will keep readers updated on the St. Albans move—and all other state employee moves occurring—throughout the year.
Conference Call Scheduled For DAIL Workers!
VSEA Board of Trustees’ member John Howe and Organizer Josh Massey have scheduled a conference call for February 5 at 6:00 p.m. for DAIL employees interested in learning the results of a recent VSEA-sponsored employee survey. The call will also provide workers with more information about the DAIL labor/management meeting process, the dates of future meetings and other information important to this group of workers. DAIL workers interested in joining the call should contact Josh Massey in advance to learn the conference call’s call-in number. You can reach Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by cell at 777-0496.
VSEA 2014 Scholarship Applications Now Being Accepted
Each winter, the VSEA Scholarship & Awards Committee begins to solicit scholarship applications from VSEA members and their spouses, dependents and domestic partners. Committee Chair Janis Henderson is pleased to announce that scholarship applications are now being accepted from students seeking financial assistance in the pursuit of post-secondary educational goals.
The application process is easy, requiring the applicant to write a couple of short essays as well as provide a grade history, employment history, personal references and a few other things. All applications received before the official deadline of May 19, 2014, are then reviewed by all Committee members who debate the eligible candidates and then vote to decide a particular year’s winners. The Scholarship and Awards Committee will announce the recipients of the scholarships at the June 2014 VSEA Council Meeting.
The guidelines to apply for a scholarship are as follows:
Applications will be considered from persons entering or engaged in: * Educational or vocational degree or licensed programs * Course(s) to further skill development * Self-improvement courses
Those persons eligible for scholarship consideration are as follows: * VSEA active members * VSEA active members’ dependents * VSEA active members’ dependent step-child * VSEA active members’ spouses/domestic partners
The Scholarship Committee will base its decision for the scholarship eligibility on the following criteria: * Career goals * Financial need * Abilities and initiative * Life experiences * Class standing (recent graduates) * Community and school involvement
VSEA Scholarship Applicant Requirements
The VSEA Scholarship Application must be completed in full, with the appropriate accompanying materials, including:
High school/college transcripts or other information (i.e., resume, personal statement) that provide an overview of the applicant’s academic/work record or ability;
Two written letters of reference must accompany the application. (These letters should reflect the student’s level of achievement, rather than provide a testimonial to the student’s good character); and
Copies of W2 tax forms to show income.
The Scholarship Award money available for 2014 Scholarships is $6,000 and shall be divided into several scholarship prizes as determined by the Awards/ Scholarship Committee.
All completed applications and all accompanying data must be received at VSEA Headquarters no later than 4:30 PM, Friday, May 19, 2014.
VSEA Awards/Scholarship Committee
c/o VSEA Headquarters
155 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
Please direct any questions concerning the scholarship awards/application process to the Chair of the VSEA Awards/Scholarship Committee:
Janis L. Henderson
VSEA Awards/Scholarship Committee
Work Phone: 802-626-6575
Personal E-mail: email@example.com
February 2 Emergency “Solidarity Meeting” To Support CCTA Bus Drivers
VSEA Board of Trustees’ member John Howe asked WIA to include this appeal to interested VSEA members in Chittenden County to attend an emergency “solidarity meeting” for CCTA bus drivers on Sunday, February 2. The meeting begins at 4:00 p.m. and is being held at the Vermont Workers’ Center, located at 294 N. Winooski Ave. in Burlington. The CCTA bus drivers could be going on strike as early as Monday, February 10, and they are mobilizing community and labor support now. Drivers are upset about a proposed new “on-call” status and about some drivers being subjected to extremely derogatory remarks from bosses.
Vince Illuzzi Pens Op-Ed Supporting VT Child Care Providers’ Right To Organize
This commentary by Essex County State’s Attorney and VSEA Legislative Consultant Vince Illuzzi appeared this week on VTDigger and in the Times Argus/Rutland Herald.
Vermont has been focusing attention and resources on providing quality early education for our youngsters for over a decade. And although significant progress has been made, more needs to be done to ensure a well-trained and paid workforce, and equitable access for all children.
The legislative debate began in 2003 when several state senators and I co-sponsored S.166 to implement strategies to promote kindergarten readiness and transition to school. Preparing children for school makes all the difference in the world. They learn in those early years how to absorb and use the information to which they will be exposed for the next 12 years.
The best return on investment of precious tax dollars is in the early years of life lies with prevention and education, not corrections and incarceration later.
A remaining goal of mine is allowing home-based child care providers the right to organize and form a collective bargaining unit. It is the frontline workers who are in the best position to identify and present to policymakers the issues, needs and problems facing workers, children and their families.
And if those providers can speak with one voice, they will be able to effectively advocate for the changes and funding necessary to ensure access by all families, regardless of financial need or educational status. Allowing them to organize will enable them to participate in a meaningful way when policy decisions are being made.
These child care workers are entrusted with our most precious assets so that parents can work. These workers are primarily women, and the rates paid from the state for the care of our young children are so low that many providers are working for well below a living wage.
S.316 enables — but does not require — child care workers to organize. The workers by majority vote will decide whether they want a union. The bill is structured after the bill last year that allowed independent home care workers to organize and negotiate. Home care workers overwhelmingly voted to collectively bargain and today, they are negotiating wages, benefits and work conditions.
In Vermont, we have a long and proud history of supporting workers’ rights. In a time when these rights are being threatened and even removed in other states, this legislation confirms our belief that all workers should be treated with dignity and respect, and this includes the right to organize.
S.316, an act relating to child care providers, will be coming up for vote in the Senate in the next several weeks, and it is my hope that we will see a strong vote of support for these workers, our children, and Vermont’s future.