Family Services Division L/M Meeting
Brattleboro Chapter Meeting
Labor Educator’s Monthly Meeting
State Office Building
Conference Room 148
Veterans’ Day Holiday
NMU Contract Update Meeting
State Office Building
Legislative Committee Meeting
Quote of The Week!
“It’s really tough to do. There’s nothing in our state budget that’s easy to cut. There’s not fat there. There’s real need there.”
Vermont Chamber of Commerce President Betsy Bishop, commenting in a news story about the budget challenge facing lawmakers when they return to Montpelier in January, facing yet another big deficit. Not every day, you read the Chamber president supporting VSEA members’ position that service and job cuts can no longer be the primary items on lawmakers’ and the State’s budget menu.
Capital Commuters News: November 2015
The following was submitted to Week In Action by Capital Commuters:
On behalf of the Go! Vermont team, we hope you enjoyed the beautiful fall colors. As the leaves disappear and we prepare for cold weather, you might be concerned about winter driving. As a Capital Commuter you can relax. We’re here to help you plan ahead and choose to commute smart. Are you all set?
Easing the winter driving tensions takes more than being aware, it takes doing. Go! Vermont is here to help you carpool, take transit, vanpool, walk and bike and how to explore your options?
On November 18th at noon VTrans, 3rd Floor, Room 313, we’re hosting a commuting and networking meeting. Bring your lunch, share and learn. Enjoy cookies by NECI and be entered to win freebies including tickets to Jay Peak Resort. We look forward to seeing you on the 18th. Please spread the word and bring a friend!!
DCF/FSD Social Worker Shannon Morton Delivers Heartfelt Testimony To Lawmakers On Worker Safety
In advance of the upcoming 2016 legislative session, DCF Family Services Division Social Worker Shannon Morton was at the State House on November 4 to deliver, at times, emotionally charged testimony to lawmakers who sit on a special committee that, during recess, has been taking testimony on the status of worker safety and what improvements are needed.
Prefacing her remarks by identifying herself as “a nearly maxed-out social worker,” Morton spoke directly to lawmakers for roughly 10 minutes, asking the committee for the staff and resources needed to ensure frontline worker safety and urging safety training for workers; something Morton explained she has never received since joining DCF. She also educated lawmakers about how the changing dynamics of society have created a need for social workers to do a lot more prep work, in advance of meeting with a family, but she explained that current caseloads prevent this kind of necessary up-front work. Morton also made several references to the need for DCF to do more outreach in our local communities, with a goal of increased engagement and collaboration.
“We are stretched ridiculously thin and barely able to meet all of our mandates, let alone enhance, develop or foster relationships with folks who don’t understand our agency or don’t have it in their own capacity to be of service to us,” said Morton. Later in her testimony, she added, “I can tell you I have hope our agency will improve” and will be able to maintain a strong staff. “The people on the ground trying to do this work are doing the best they can with” increased caseloads and the complexity of cases.
“I’m worried we’re creating a system that isn’t going to be able to maintain the workers that are in it for the right reasons and want to do this work.”
In the same VTDigger story, Washington County State’s Attorney Scott Williams testimony is also highlighted. Williams was one of the first on the scene, following the tragic killing of DCF Social Worker Lara Sobel on August 7. Williams used a large portion of his time in front of committee to echo Morton’s call for adequate staffing and safety for all workers.
“I’m not here to advocate that I should have an up-armored Tahoe, and body armor and bodyguards, but I am here to say our employees need to feel you guys really understand how ongoing the terror is of future events, and that we need to take steps to remedy that,” Williams said.
Williams recommendations for additional security measures include an entry “airlock” where people could be screened, bulletproof glass, fences around the parking lot and perhaps adding more armed guards at courthouses.
Rebuffed Again, VSEA Judiciary Members Adopt New Tactic To Get Management To The Table
VSEA Judiciary members working in courthouses across Vermont ramped up their efforts this week to get management to come to the bargaining table, after management informed the workers recently that it is unwilling to come to the table until mid-December. Workers had filed an unfair labor practice to try to force management to begin bargaining right now with the Unit, in advance of having to submit a budget to the legislature, but it was recently dismissed by the Labor Board on a technicality. Following the ULP’s dismissal, VSEA members wrote a letter to management, asking them again to come to the table, but the answer they heard back was “not until mid-December.”
Some VSEA members may have seen a blogger post and a couple of news stories this week about an internal personnel matter that your Board of Trustees and leadership are aware of and are acting to temper and resolve, as any organization—especially one of VSEA’ size and stature—would.
All the stories are based on the content of what were intended to be internal documents, but, unfortunately, the content found its way into the hands of some in the media.
As WIA informed readers last week, VSEA Judiciary members who sit on the labor side of the table during Judiciary labor/management meetings have been discussing the issue of courthouse security for years now, and there was a report delivered to the legislature in January that found there is a real need for improved security in Vermont’s courthouses. However, to date, there hasn’t been much movement by management to address many of the report’s recommendations, but the recent assault at Costello has shined a new spotlight on courthouse security deficiencies and validated VSEA Judiciary workers’ repeated calls for improved security.
In the Free Press story, Chittenden County Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin points out some of the security needs at the Costello Courthouse, calling the present camera system “antiquated,” and citing a need for more frontline security staff to ensure there are an adequate number of physical patrols being conducted.
McLaughlin does remind that security functions “fairly well” at Costello, adding, “If everything’s going well—and we’ve had very few incidents—maybe it’s because what you have now is basically good.” But he adds: “One incident is too many.”
The story also asks the Executive Director of Vermont’s Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs David Cahill to weigh in on courthouse security, knowing that the legislature has directed the Judiciary to cut each courthouse’s security budget by three percent. He says, “It’s fair to ask the question, ‘Is it possible to be more efficient to save money and also to be safer?’ “Being privy to the amount of money that’s spent on security now, I can tell you, there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room to cut further costs without having an impact upon the quality and training and number of personnel who are conducting security operations at courthouses.”
The story also mentions that, per a report recommendation, committees have been formed across the state to find ways to improve courthouse security. What the story doesn’t mention is that there is an ongoing effort by frontline VSEA Judiciary members to get a “stakeholder” seat on each of these committees. To date, just one committee has agreed to allow a VSEA member to staff the committee. VSEA members are currently ramping up their efforts to ensure VSEA representation on all the committees.
Want Instantaneous Push Notifications From Your Union?
Download The VSEAUnite App
With the 2016 legislative session fast approaching, VSEA is excited to be employing a new push notification tool to message members faster about important hearings, meetings, testimony, events and other union matters. Any member who has already downloaded the VSEAUnite App does not to do anything, but if you haven’t downloaded the free App yet, you can do so very easily.
VSEA’s Communications team is stressing that it will not be overloading members’ phones with push notifications. Members will also have the option to easily turn off the notifications, if the volume of notifications ever becomes an issue.
“We’ll be working in the coming weeks and months to increase the number of VSEA members using the VSEAUnite App, with an emphasis on getting a few users from each work site,” explains Communications Director Doug Gibson. “We’ll be aiming to limit the notifications to just information that is important to the entire VSEA membership, as opposed to Chapter- or Unit-specific messages, which, for the time being, will continue to be sent to members via email message.”
VSEAUnite is available for most mobile devices, including iPhone and Android. Once you download the App, you simply register with your name and your VSEA bargaining unit and location. VSEAUnite then allows you to view your Unit’s contract, find contact information for your nearest VSEA steward (to report contract infractions), see a calendar of upcoming VSEA events and read the latest news about working people to hit the wires.
The download is free, so your union hopes all VSEA iPhone, Android and other mobile users will download it today!
Labor/Management Dialogue Gets Results For VSEA AOT Members Concerned About High Number Of Plow Driver Opening
VSEA members on who sit on the Agency of Transportation’s (AOT) Labor/Management Committee have been listening to their colleagues back in the garages across Vermont, and, like them, they are concerned about the high number of plow driver openings that currently exist, especially with snow season fast approaching.
VSEA’s AOT labor team brought their colleagues’ concerns about the openings to several recent L/M meetings, and after the two sides talked collaboratively about how best to address the problem, management recently agreed to begin offering a bonus to Vermonters with a CDL license who are hired for the upcoming snow season.
Here’s a press release AOT put out November 3:
“The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) is offering additional incentives to help recruit frontline maintenance workers and mechanics this season. From now through December 31, newly hired plow drivers and mechanics who already have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) will receive a total of $1,000 in bonuses over the course of their first year of service. Candidates who don’t have a CDL are eligible for free training and a total of $500 in bonuses over the course of their first year of service.
‘Maintenance has been the traditional point of entry for many who have gone on to long-term careers at VTrans,’ said Transportation Secretary Chris Cole. ‘The recent wave of retirements has left us with an urgent need to fill these critical positions. We hope that by offering this additional incentive, we can get the attention of the talented folks who want to become part the team that keeps our roads safe. It’s a demanding job, but also one of the most rewarding.’
Working for VTrans already presents many excellent benefits including quality health and dental care, a defined pension program, training and tuition reimbursement, overtime opportunities and snow pay. Working at VTrans means a choice of many career pathways. An entry-level position can be the gateway to hundreds of different jobs.
To learn more about the many job opportunities at VTrans, visit vtrans.vermont.gov/jobs or contact your local garage.”
Settlement Could Open Door To More Transparency About State’s Contracts With Private Vendors And Designated Agencies
One of the tools VSEA has at its disposal to help shine a light on the State’s contracting practices with private vendors (some of whom end up doing work once done by state employees) is to file a public records request. Over the years, VSEA has filed dozens of public records requests on behalf of members, including requests for information about IT contracts, agencies and departments use of temporary employees, overtime data, State building costs and a host of other things. One vendor’s records that VSEA has always wanted to review are those of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA); a for-profit prison contractor that the State used to contract with to house Vermont offenders. Until recently, CCA claimed it was protected from having to share its records with VSEA, the Auditor or any other entity, but that all changed on November 5, when it was announced that a settlement had been reached between CCA and Prison Legal News; the (at-the-time) Vermont-based publication that filed a lawsuit against CCA, seeking records.
The importance of the settlement is explained at the beginning of the Court’s written decision on reimbursement costs for the plaintiff. It reads, “This is an unusual public records case. As far as the court can tell, it is the first time in Vermont that a private corporation, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has been found by any court to be the functional equivalent of a governmental agency for pubic records purposes and thus subject to the Public Records Act.”
A November 5 VTDigger story quotes the former head of the Vermont Human Rights Commission explaining how the settlement reached between the parties could open the door to VSEA and others being able to access records not only from CCA or other private vendors, but also those of the many designated agencies the State has under contract.
“VSEA members will benefit from this ruling because the union will now be able to better determine if the State’s decision to contract with a particular private vendor or designated agency was a good for taxpayers, or could the work have been done more efficiently or cost-effectively by state employees,” explains VSEA Communications Director Doug Gibson, who files a lot of VSEA’s public records requests. “Looking forward to testing the ruling out to see what we can now review.”
VSEA is actively seeking to fill a Union Representative position at headquarters in Montpelier. Here is a description for any member interested in applying:
Join Vermont’s most dynamic statewide union as its new Union Representative.
Areas of Responsibility Include:
Administration and enforcement of seven (7) collective bargaining agreements negotiated by VSEA (Non-Management, Corrections, Supervisory, State Colleges, Judiciary, Defender General and Housing Authority);
Responsible for case assessment, complaint and grievance activity, representation for internal employment investigations;
Provides professional representation in Loudermill pre-termination hearings;
Negotiates stipulation settlement agreements on behalf of members under the direction of VSEA General Counsel and Director of Field Services;
May assist in internal or external organizing projects upon request of Director of Field Services or Executive Director and in collaboration with the Organizing Department;
Responsible for timely processing of paperwork and monthly reports, as assigned by Director of Field Services, including, but not limited to monthly case review reports; and
Attends meetings on behalf of VSEA, as directed by the Director of Field Services or Executive Director.
VSEA seeks to interview dynamic candidates with a track record of commitment to the labor movement and preferably two (2) years of experience as a union representative, both administering and enforcing collective bargaining agreements. Interested and qualified candidates are encouraged to submit their resume and a cover letter detailing their labor movement experience to Rstout@VSEA.org. Exceptional candidates will be scheduled for an interview.
VSEA Legislative Committee Meeting To Prepare For Upcoming Session
VSEA’s Legislative Committee will meet for the first time on November 13. It’s the first meeting for the group since Judiciary Unit leader Margaret Crowley was appointed chair by President Bellini. The Legislative Committee is one of VSEA’s largest and most important committees. These are the frontline workers who come together to vet all of the issues important to VSEA members and then create a legislative agenda from those issues. Addressing chronic understaffing and ensuring a safe workplace for all employees will probably top this year’s list. Once the committee creates a proposed legislative agenda, it’s then reviewed by your union’s Council and Board of Trustees.
VSEA will be sharing your union’s 2016 legislative agenda with all members, once it’s ready to go.
VSEA’s NEK/St. Johnsbury Chapter President Ellen Hinman asked WIA to let Chapter members know that the Chapter’s next meeting is Wednesday, November 18, beginning at 5:00 p.m. at the ANR Office, located at 1229 Portland Street in St. Johnsbury.
VSEA Insurance Representative In Morrisville Next Week
VSEA Insurance Representative Joanne Woodcock will be in Morrisville two days next week to talk with interested VSEA members about member-only insurance benefits.
November 12 & 13
Morrisville District Office
AHS Conference Room
93 Professional Dr.
12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Receive information on disability coverage, family life insurance, family accident and cancer coverage. You must be a member paying full dues to be eligible for this VSEA benefit. If you are an agency-fee payer, Joanne can provide you information about signing up for full membership.