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February 17, 2011

Vermont's Unionized Workers Under Pressure to Pay More

Images No expectations that Vermont will see some of the massive labor protests currently going on in Wisconsin, where the Republican governor has said he'd like to pretty much do away with state employees' collective bargaining rights.

The Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has even asked the state National Guard to be ready to keep the peace if protests get out of hand and workers fail to show up on the job.

Along with doing away with most collective bargaining rights, Walker also wants state employees to pay more for health care premiums and retirement benefits.

As noted in this week's "Fair Game," Vermont's workforce was asked to make similar benefits concessions. Late Tuesday, the 120-member executive council of the Vermont State Employees Association agreed to the concessions, which will mean state employees will kick in more toward their own health care and retirement benefits.

The concessions are part of a $12 million package of labor cost savings that Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration has proposed. Other savings will come from keeping about half of the anticipated vacant positions unfilled.

In other labor updates from stories in this week's Seven Days:

Teachers on Strike?

South Burlington teachers and the school board remain at odds over a proposed contract offer for this school year. The School Board voted Wednesday night to impose a contract on the nearly 300 teachers — who are some of the highest-paid teachers in Vermont. The teachers have already set a March 2 strike date and are giving no indication that they won't make good on that promise.

As noted in this week's paper, school boards and teachers are increasingly threatening to use the "nuclear option" in their bargaining arsenal. For school boards, that means imposing contracts on staff. For teachers, that means going on strike.

The last teachers' strike in Vermont was in 2006.

"For the first time in half a century, the South Burlington School Board ended negotiations and imposed working conditions on the men and women who teach the city's children," said Richard Wise, co-president of the South Burlington Educators' Association. "No board in this district has ever done this, and we reject this imposition."

The teachers will hold a strike vote March 2. "It's up to the board now to prevent a disruption in the school year," Wise said.

One of the main sticking points is the board's desire to push a provision that would allow it to impose working conditions and not have to honor negotiated salary schedules, otherwise known as "step increases."

Legislative Pay Raises

As noted in "Fair Game" lawmakers are following in Gov. Shumlin's footsteps and offering raises to a select few staffers that help them run the show under the Golden Dome — including several attorneys.

A handful of those staffers received pay raises on January 1, ranging from one to seven percent. Then, lawmakers hatched a plan to give four workers — three lawyers and one non-lawyer — extra pay in order to compensate them for taking on some extra work and duties left to them by their departing boss, Emily Bergquist, the director of Legislative Council.

House Speaker Shap Smith tells Seven Days the workers have accepted the extra work, and extra pay, but the pay will be pro-rated for the three-and-a-half months allotted for the legislative session. But, the extra pay is only good for the legislative session and may not be good for the full year. "We told them there is no guarantee in the new fiscal year that that higher rate of pay will continue," said Smith.

In other words, though their pay, in some cases, will be the equivalent of an annualized raise of $5000 to nearly $10,000, only about a third of is anticipated to be spent. At most, Smith said, a few workers could see an extra $3500 in pay during the session.

The additional personnel costs will come from existing funds and are not expected to increase the overall legislative budget, Smith noted.

I don't remember being asked to concede anything. First we are forced to take paycuts and now this? Doesn't seem right. Are we working for the mafia?

Seems the VSEA may have made a mistake indorsing Shumlin. As should have been known and clear from the start Shumlin talks a good game, just don't expect him to follow through with the empty promises.

As for the Teacher's Union, well this had to be expected. Especially after the pension debacle and the economy failing to recover. People just can't afford it. They can't afford to soak up the mismanagement of the town AND see their educational property tax go up another 400-500 dollars a year or more.

What we are seeing is the response to unsustainable promises. Pensions are killing the taxpayers and every single expert to look at the state or teachers pension plans all agree they are not sustainable. At some point you hit a point where you just can't pay anymore. I think that point is here.

For ever and ever teachers have insisted "It's for the children." Now we can see it's always really been for their own benefit. Now that they're being asked to pick up some of the expense they cry, "It's unfair." The truth is out. Their unions have always protected even the unfit and refused to have members share the overburdening taxpayer costs. Whether auto worker's union, state employee's union or teacher's union - they're all the same. Time to lose the attitude and experience the real world like the rest of us.

My understanding about the increase in the pension deduction is that it will be 1.5%. So, if you were eligible for a step raise in Jan., pension increase and 3% pay cut a state employee will have lost 14.5% of their gross pay in the past year. Quite the Governor and idiotic union we have. Just makes you want to concede even more, like 50%, ah hell why not work for free.

No first we had to bail out the leeches behind this, then we had to watch them do nothing to start the economy with their ill gotten gains, just continue the casino games and triple their salaries whilst telling the rest of us we need the moral spine stiffening of sacrifice for the greater good while they simply revel in their filthy ill gotten gains.
Austerity for you and me vomitoriums for the patricians of Rome.
And there's Shumlin like Obama don't touch the rich is the first promise they make.
We need to understand its just one big corporate party and we the people better get ourselves together because they intend to pick our bones to keep the casino going.

Nobody disputes teachers do valuable work, but they're inability to relate to the majority of working class people who simply cannot afford to continue to pay for benefits that have not been offered in the private sector for decades is wrong.

Teachers are paid for by the middle class, and the middle class are unwilling to provide retirement, raises and health care without restraint. Asking teachers to forego automatic raises and contribute to the rising cost of health care and contribute to their retirement is fair. And even giving in to every concession would still make them a great deal better off than almost everybody else.

This outright refusal to accept reality is incredibly greedy and uncaring of their support structure. Us!

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