WIA will periodically be spotlighting VSEA members who are going the extra mile for their union and for their co-workers. If you have a co-worker you‘d like to nominate, please send the VSEA member’s name, where s/he works and a few reasons why this person is receiving your nomination to VSEA Communications Director Doug Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VSEA Board Wants Your Question For The State’s Top Official
As part of its formal endorsement process, VSEA is actively soliciting one question from members to the State’s top official. VSEA’s Board of Trustees will be meeting soon with this official to conduct a comprehensive interview, and, in advance, they would like to see what your question would be.
If you have a burning question, please send it to VSEA Communications Director Doug Gibson at email@example.com and write “My Question” in the subject line.
We can’t guarantee your question will be asked, but we’ll do our best. Please refrain from submitting questions containing subject matter not related to state employees, your worksites or your ability to adequately deliver services to Vermonters. Thanks!
Retirement Board Seeks Alternate
At the union’s Annual Meeting on September 13, VSEA members Tom Hango and Jeff Briggs were elected to serve as the union’s representatives to the Vermont State Retirement Board. Hango was serving as VSEA’s alternate to this Board, so his election to one of VSEA’s two, full-time seats has created a need to now fill the alternate seat.
If you are interested in serving as VSEA’s alternate to the Vermont State Retirement Board, please submit a letter of intent to the VSEA Elections Committee no later than Friday, October 17, 2014. You should send an email to Mary Poulos at VSEA (firstname.lastname@example.org), or mail your letter to:
VSEA Elections Committee
c/o Mary Poulos
155 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05602
Special Note: VSEA asks that interested candidates consider if they really have the ability to dedicate the time needed to fulfill the role of this position. For more information about the position, please contact Ray Stout at VSEA HQ, 223-5247. If you cannot ensure your attendance at the Retirement Board meetings, and fulfill the other requirements (including outside reading, conference calls, workshops, etc.), you may want to reconsider applying for this role.
VT Workers’ Center Hosting Series Of “People’s Forums On Human Rights & The Economy”
In advance of the fast-approaching election season, the Vermont Workers’ Center is hosting a series of “People’s Forums on Human Rights and the Economy,” where it hopes concerned workers and other Vermonters will come to share stories about the “interconnected crises in our communities, and how Vermont movements for climate justice, disability and workers’ rights, education, healthcare and a people’s budget are teaming up to collectively advance a vision for citizens and our planet.” The forums will also challenge candidates to explain how, if elected, they intend to follow through to ensure their community’s needs are met.
Here is the forum schedule, times and places:
Oct: 7: Montpelier High School Cafeteria, Montpelier
October 7 @ 6:30 p.m.
Oct 9: Integrated Arts Academy, Burlington
October 9 @ 6 p.m.
Oct 13: Mt. Abraham High School, Bristol
October 13 @ 6 p.m.
Oct 14: Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School, Essex
October 14 @ 6 p.m.
Oct 14: Marlboro Graduate Center, Room 2E, Brattleboro
October 14 @ 6 p.m.
Oct 15: People's Academy Cafeteria, Morrisville
October 15 @ 6:30 p.m.
Oct 15: St. Peters Church, Bennington
October 15 @ 6:30 p.m.
Oct 16: Franklin Co. Senior Center, St. Albans
October 16 @ 6 p.m.
Oct 16: St. Johnsbury School Gym, St. Johnsbury
October 16 @ 6 p.m.
Oct 16: Hartford High School, White River Jct.
October 16 @ 6:30 p.m.
Bolton Valley Announces Discounted Season Passes For VSEA Members
For the second year in a row, the VSEA Advantage Discount Program is pleased to offer discounted season passes to the Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Bolton, Vt.
VSEA members who order a pass before October 31, 2014, will receive a $70 discount off the regular $569 season pass price, making it just $499. Like last year, this offer is available only to VSEA members who are currently paying full dues to their union.
The sign-up process is pretty straightforward, but, like last year, in order for a member to view the special VSEA discount promo code (which can be found by clicking here), you must be a registered user of the VSEA website, which also requires you to be a full dues-paying member.
In the coming months, VSEA’s Communications team will be devoting time to redesigning the VSEA website, making it cleaner and more user friendly. In advance of sitting down to begin the redesign process, VSEA’s Communications team is asking members to please take a few minutes to complete an online survey about VSEA’s current site and about what members want in a new site. VSEA is also interested in learning what websites appeal to you and why, and what websites aren’t so appealing and why.
VSEA’s State Housing Authority Unit Ratifies New Contract!
VSEA is sending big congratulations to members belonging to the union's Vermont State Housing Authority Unit. The votes were tallied on Tuesday, and the VSHA Unit overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new contract. VSEA issued the following press release:
Members of the Vermont State Employee Association’s (VSEA) Election, Rules and Nominating (ERN) Committee counted ballots at union headquarters today and announced the overwhelming ratification of a new contract by VSEA members belonging to the Vermont State Housing Authority Unit.
“VSEA is extremely pleased that our members belonging to the union’s State Housing Authority have voted in large numbers to ratify a new contract with the State,” said VSEA President Shelley Martin. “This makes VSEA seven-for-seven in 2014, in terms of negotiating fair agreements for our members, and that’s really something given how tough public employees in many other states are having it right now. I believe this new agreement is the State’s recognition of the Housing Authority workers’ dedication and the valuable contributions they make to Vermont each and every day.”
“I’m very proud of the way our rank-and-file State Housing Authority Unit Bargaining Team kept our colleagues updated on any and all developments throughout negotiations,” said VSEA VSHA member Jodi Parker. “By keeping members in the loop, the Team was able to build the kind of solidarity necessary to result in the fair and just contract we have now ratified in big numbers.”
Brattleboro Chapter “Hiking For The Homeless” On October 5
VSEA Brattleboro Chapter President Robin Rieske is inviting Chapter members to join her and others on October 5 to “Hike for the Homeless.” Rieske and other VSEA hikers are meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the base of Wantastiquet in Hinsdale. All proceeds from the hike will benefit the Morningside Shelter.
“If you are able to come and wear your VSEA shirt, that would be great,” Rieske told members in an email this week. “We’ll accept any and all donations and present what is collected to the shelter, on behalf of the Brattleboro Chapter.”
Rieske is asking VSEA Brattleboro Chapter members who can’t make the hike to please consider supporting “this great cause” by dropping a check off to her at the Brattleboro Vermont Department of Health by Friday, October 3. You can also mail a donation to: Robin Rieske, 94 Hillcrest Terrace, Brattleboro, VT 05301. Make checks payable to Morningside Shelter.
Climate Change Marchers Holding “Homecoming” Tonight To Discuss Event With Participants And The Public
If you were unable to attend the People's Climate March in NYC, come to the Old Labor Hall in Barre tonight, October 3, to hear firsthand about the event from Vermonters who did go, including VSEA members. The event begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public and to VSEA members who want to learn more about the climate change issue and its impact on working Vermonters. VSEA marchers hope to see you there!
All VSEA Retirees To Move Into EGWP Prescription Drug Plan On Jan. 1, 2015
Retirees Can Opt Out But Doing So Forfeits Coverage
Note: The notice sent this week to VSEA retirees has been amended to include clarification (underlined) for retirees not yet eligible for Medicare. The amended message is below.
In March 2014, VSEA agreed to allow the State to move all Medicare-eligible retirees and their Medicare-eligible dependents into a federally administered prescription drug plan called an Employer Group Waiver Program, or an EGWP (“eggwhip”) plan. Federal EGWP rules require employers to offer an “opt-out” opportunity. However, the state health plan rules say that once you opt out, you cannot get back into the state’s drug plan. Since the new EGWP drug plan replaces retirees’ current drug plan, there is no other drug plan option besides EGWP for Medicare-eligible retirees.
The agreement calls for VSEA retirees to join the EGWP plan on January, 1, 2015. All Medicare-eligible state retirees currently in the retiree medical/drug plan will be automatically transferred into the EGWP plan on January 1, except for those who choose to opt out. There will be no change for retirees who are not yet Medicare-eligible. Those retirees will stay in the current active state employees’ drug plan until they are Medicare-eligible, at which time they will be switched to the EGWP drug plan.
If you choose to opt out of the EGWP plan, please understand that you will lose your State-provided prescription drug coverage. If you still choose to opt out, keep an eye on the U.S. Mail in the coming days and weeks for anything from Express Scripts. If it’s a mailing about the January 1 EGWP program, and you are choosing not to participate, you must check the opt-out box included and submit your paperwork back to Express Scripts. If you do not do this, like all other Medicare-eligible VSEA retirees, you will be automatically enrolled in the EGWP plan on January 1, 2015.
Medicare-eligible VSEA retirees who wish to remain in the state retiree prescription drug plan (EGWP) do not have to do anything. You will be automatically enrolled in the EGWP plan on January 1, 2015.
“Let me be clear that the only Medicare-eligible VSEA retirees who need to concern themselves with this notice are the ones who do not want to continue prescription drug coverage through the retiree medical plan,” clarifies VSEA Retirees’ Chapter President Joan Maclay. “If you don’t voluntarily opt out, you will automatically be enrolled.”
New Report Proposes DCF Changes. VSEA Wants To Know What Frontline Workers Think
In the wake of the recent, tragic deaths of two young Vermont children, newly appointed AHS Secretary Dr. Harry Chen and DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz released a study on October 1, summarizing ways to improve the Department for Children and Families. Not surprisingly, at the top of the list was a need for more staff; an argument VSEA members have been making for years now at the State House and to the press.
“It should be no secret to lawmakers or other State officials that there is a dire need for more staff within DCF,” VSEA President Shelley Martin tells WIA. “VSEA members have warned both parties for years that the previous administration’s ‘job cutting exercises’ severely decimated many services, especially in places like Family Services. VSEA is pleased that more positions are now being considered, but we’re equally concerned about projected future budget deficits that could cause the fixes recommended in this report to never see the light of day. They desperately need to happen…sooner, not later.”
An October 2 VTDigger story about the study discusses the recommendations Martin references, reading, in part: “The Department for Children and Families needs eight more staff immediately and stronger coordination of the services it provides Vermonters” and “In addition to authorizing the department to create 27 new positions earlier this year, Gov. Peter Shumlin asked state human services officials to analyze whether DCF should be reorganized. The report recommended against splitting its two divisions, economic services and family services. Instead it called for eight new positions immediately as well as four more staff later, if budgets allow. It also calls for more staff training, better collaboration between DCF and other state and community partners, more transparency and better communication within DCF and with the Legislature and public, and more effective mid-level management so the department’s commissioner is free to move DCF forward.”
Martin is urging VSEA members, especially those working in DCF, to review Chen and Schatz’s report and let VSEA know what you think. Are the suggested added positions enough to address the problems that exist? What more would you do? Are there issues not identified in the report that you believe should be? VSEA wants to know.
Send your report feedback to email@example.com and write “DCF Report Feedback” in the subject line. Thanks in advance for your input.
Equal Time Radio Reports On VSEA Drive To Organize UVM Workers
This week’s Equal Time Radio show featured an interview with VSEA Organizer Jen Larsen and UVM worker and United Staff member Sarah Goodrich, talking about the current campaign to bring union representation to Goodrich and 750+ other workers and explaining next steps after last week’s election filing. The two also touch on UVM union organizing history, administration salary bloat and other key issues that prompted the workers to seek VSEA representation.
VSEA President Promoting Vermont Vets’ Home To Members
If you’re a VSEA member with an aging relative who now requires hands-on care after serving in America’s armed forces, VSEA President Shelley Martin is appealing to you to consider allowing VSEA’s 200-plus members at the Vermont Veterans Home to provide your loved one with the top-level care they deserve.
“As I travel the state, talking with frontline workers about worksites where VSEA members are, I’m surprised by how many members are unaware of the Vermont Veterans Home or that several hundred VSEA members work there,” says Martin. “I always try and promote the Vets’ Home wherever I am. I tell people how dedicated the frontline workers are there and how much they care about their residents and how much pride they take in caring for this very special population of Vermonters. The Vets’ Home is a true Bennington landmark, and by supporting it, you are also supporting state employees.”
Martin asked WIA to provide members with the Vets’ Home admissions policy, which is:
“Vermont Veterans have priority for admission to the VVH. Veterans from other states are welcome to apply. Eligible Veterans are those who served at least ninety days in the Armed Forces of the United States and were discharged under honorable conditions. Gold Star parents and spouses of qualified Veterans also are eligible for admission.”
Public Assets’ Blog Post Sounds Alarm About Possible Cuts To Services And Positions
The Vermont non-profit group Public Assets posted a blog on October 1 that warns about possible service and position cuts, pointing out how counter that action would be to existing state statute that calls for a budget that “advances human dignity and equity.”
Here’s the post, verbatim:
“A month after announcing a 2 percent cut to the current year’s budget, the [State] is signaling its intention to make additional cuts of as much as 5 percent and possibly more next year (fiscal 2016). For an already anemic state government that is suffering from staffing shortages and struggling to meet its obligations to residents, the [State]’s directive cannot be good for Vermonters or for state employee morale.
The Department of Finance and Management sent fiscal 2016 budget instructions to state agency and department managers in mid-September. Managers have about a month to respond, explaining how they will deal with upward “pressures”—such as cost-of-living increases for state employees, caseload increases, contractual increases, loss of federal funding, inflation, and other new demands—and still meet their budget targets.
The [State] laid out two scenarios for fiscal 2016:
Level funding—the same amount appropriated for this fiscal year after the cuts adopted in August; and
Five percent cut from fiscal 2015 levels—again after the August cuts.
With both scenarios, the [State] is requiring that agencies and departments absorb state employee salary increases put in place in fiscal 2015. So ‘level funding’ really will mean less money for services next year than this year (see also 2011 blog on level funding). And because department managers are being warned there will be no state funds to make up for any cut in federal funds, except to meet ‘a critical state policy goal,’ the second scenario is likely to produce cuts deeper than 5 percent.
While Vermonters expect a balanced budget, the fact that a budget is balanced does not make it adequate. State statute says: ‘The state budget should be designed to address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity.’ Among the needs cited in the law are ‘health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment.’
Next month when agencies and departments submit their responses to the governor’s budget targets, Vermonters also should get a look at what’s being proposed. Then they can judge whether the [State] is preparing a budget that is adequate to provide the services they need or simply one that makes the numbers come out even.”
VSEA Labor Educator Tim Lenoch is announcing the schedule for the next round of steward trainings. Some locations remain to be determined, but interested members are encouraged to apply and Tim will provide you a location as the date draws closer. To register for any of the trainings below, please fill out a registration form, which can be found by clicking here.
Introduction and the Basics
Friday November 7
9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Vtrans Training Center
1716 US Rte. 302, Berlin
Roles, rights, and expectations of a VSEA Steward
Background on labor history, collective bargaining and public-sector unions
Communication, building trust, and representing co-workers
Building a working relationship with your Union Representative and other VSEA Stewards
Calling All Troublemakers! Vermont Troublemakers’ School 2014
The Vermont Labor Solidarity Committee and Labor Notes are pleased to announce that the 2014 Vermont Troublemakers School is being held Sunday, November 9, from 10:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. in UVM’s Rowen Hall at 106 Carrigan Drive, Burlington.
Join fellow troublemakers for a day of discussion, training, networking, and inspiration! We’ll discuss rank-and-file strategies for advancing our unions and demanding our rights.
How to have an organizing conversation
How to broaden member participation
Reviving social justice unionism
Developing rank-and-file leaders
Winning contract campaigns
Strikes and other worksite actions to win
And much more
Here's a list of organizations whose members are contributing to shaping and building our Troublemakers School:
CCTA Teamster Bus Drivers
Vermont Workers Center
United Academics at UVM
Vermont Nurses and Healthcare Professionals (VNHP)
International Socialist Organization
UE Locals in Chittenden and Washington Counties
Vermont Migrant Justice
Home Health Care Workers
Howard Center AFSCME Local 1674
Green Mountain Labor Council
And more to come.
To register, choose a registration level at bottom of page, add to your cart and check out through our online store. (Look for "Shopping Cart" in the upper right corner of the page when you are ready to pay.) For more information or to get involved, contact Traven Leyshon at Traven.L@gmail.com or 802-522-3484.