Sunday, October 19, 2014

Deal Struck: School Resumes in South Burlington Monday

Posted By on Sun, Oct 19, 2014 at 10:42 AM

South Burlington teachers outside the high school last week - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • South Burlington teachers outside the high school last week
South Burlington schools will be open Monday after striking teachers reached a tentative agreement with the school board on a new contract late Saturday night.

Details of the agreement were not released. Mediator Joseph McNeil issued a statement late last night saying that a marathon negotiating session on the third straight day of talks had yielded a deal. Teachers and board members will both have to vote to approve the agreement before it becomes official. It was not immediately clear when those votes would occur.

"Until the association's membership and the board ratifies the tentative agreement, they are unable to share any details as to the terms of the agreement," McNeil wrote in a brief statement. In all, the parties spent 29 hours negotiating and speaking with McNeil to reach the agreement.

Neither the board nor the teachers released any information or statements.

The first strike in the district's history began last Tuesday, with teachers saying the district was not offering an adequate health care plan, among other grievances. The gap initially appeared to be large. The board said it had offered teachers $1.9 million in new compensation — including health and pay — while the union sought $2.6 million.

Roughly 2,400 students saw classes cancelled last week. Sports and extracurricular activities resumed on Friday. 

Gov. Peter Shumlin said the work stoppage demonstrated that teachers strikes should be outlawed, and that educators, like many state employees, police and firefighters, should go to binding arbitration with a neutral third party if they cannot reach an agreement.

“When you see what's going on in a community like South Burlington, the people that get hurt are the kids, the moms and the dads who suddenly have no place for their kids to go during the day," Shumlin said, according to Vermont Public Radio.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

South Burlington Teachers Set to Strike

Posted By on Mon, Oct 13, 2014 at 5:07 PM

South Burlington schools will be closed and school activities will be cancelled beginning tomorrow as teachers appear on the verge of going on strike. 

The district announced this afternoon that classes, sports, clubs and all extracurricular activities are indefinitely cancelled. Numerous media reports indicate the teachers, frustrated by months of negotiations that have failed to yield a new contract, plan to walk out.

Vermont Public Radio reported today that teachers made a counteroffer over the weekend, but the South Burlington School Board won't meet to consider it until Thursday.

VPR reported that the board called the union proposal "disrespectful," accusing the union of creating a crisis and setting an "arbitrary deadline."

Multiple media outlets have reported that the district's effort to alter the teachers' health care plan to save money is at the center of the disagreement. Fox 44 reported last week that the school board offered teachers the option of keeping their current health plan, but only if the teachers receive a lower salary increase than they had requested.

The district has roughly 2,400 students enrolled in its five schools.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Adjuncts at Champlain and Burlington Colleges Seek to Unionize. Is St. Mike's Next?

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 3:41 PM

  • File: Thom Glick

During the academic year, Naomi Winterfalcon works as an adjunct professor at Champlain College — a post she's held for the last eight years.

During the summer, she said, she relies on food stamps to get by. 

"When I graduated with a master's, I really thought it would be life-changing and that I would have a decent income and a marketable skill," said Winterfalcon, who got her advanced degree in her early fifties. Now 59, she went on, "I certainly have a marketable skill, but I don’t have a decent income and I certainly don't have benefits." She gets paid roughly $3,500 for each of three humanities courses she teaches per semester. She used to get health care through her spouse, but her spouse recently lost her job; now both are on Medicaid. 

Tapping into that type of frustration, the Service Employees International Union is attempting to organizing adjuncts at Champlain, Burlington and St. Michael's colleges. This Friday, it filed a petition with the U.S. Labor Relations Board to request union elections at Champlain and Burlington colleges, where officials got the required 30 percent of employee signatures. SEIU plans to do the same at St. Michael's. 

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

VSEA Board Hires Steve Howard as Executive Director

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Steve Howard
  • Steve Howard
Drawing from within its ranks, the Vermont State Employees' Association has hired Steve Howard as its new executive director. Howard, who has been the union's legislative director for the last year and a half, is replacing Mark Mitchell, who announced in May that he was leaving his post to move closer to his elderly mother in Orlando, Fla.

Howard has deep roots in the Vermont political realm. He spent more than a decade in the Statehouse as a representative from Rutland, chaired the Vermont Democratic Party for several years, and, in 2010, challenged Phil Scott in an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.

Mitchell held multiple labor jobs in California, Florida and South America before arriving at the VSEA in December 2011. His leadership rankled some within the 5,500-member union, and several state officials said their relationship with him was less amicable than with past directors. But Howard praised Mitchell for growing the union’s membership base. “I think we have an unprecedented amount of new energy and activity and people stepping up to take leadership roles,” he said.

In a written statement, Howard also explained that the board of trustees gave him unambiguous instructions: Stay the course laid out by your predecessor. "Board members made it clear during the interview process that they really like the direction VSEA is going in and they did not want it to change. I assured them that I don’t either.”

According to Howard, VSEA members are now on the same page about the future direction of the union. “I really think they are excited about the idea that their union is really about them and not about insiders in Montpelier making deals on their behalf.”

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Deputy Prosecutors Continue Unionization Battle While Their Bosses Push Back

Posted By on Tue, Jun 3, 2014 at 12:41 PM

The two-year quest by deputy state prosecutors to join a labor union is growing more contentious. After failing to win recognition as state employees in recent 
years, deputies from eight counties filed petitions with the Vermont Labor Relations Board asking to be recognized as county employees — as some state officials have long suggested they are. 

But now the Department of State's Attorneys is opposing that request. The state's attorneys have retained a private lawyer to argue that their deputies aren't state or county employees, but rather at-will workers with no right to form a union.

"It's amazing, the firestorm we are seeing right now," said Justin St. James, staff attorney for the Vermont State Employees Association, which is trying to organize the deputies. "There's a lot more anger now. They were told they weren't state employees, they were county employees. And now, [there is] all-out opposition to being county employees."

Department of State's Attorney's Executive Director Bram Kranichfeld, citing the pending labor board decision, declined to comment.

The opposition from the Department of State's Attorneys, the body that represents Vermont's 14 independently elected state's attorneys, is the latest wrinkle in a twisting labor saga. 

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Monday, May 12, 2014

VSEA Chief to Leave State Workers Union for Florida

Posted By on Mon, May 12, 2014 at 12:10 PM

The on-again, off-again leader of the Vermont State Employees Association is off, again.

Mark Mitchell, executive director of the 5,500-member state workers union, is leaving for Orlando to be closer to his recently widowed mother, the VSEA informed its members Friday. Mitchell is "in discussions with several unions in Florida and hopes to finalize a contract with one of them in the coming weeks," spokesman Doug Gibson said in a statement. 

Since he came to Vermont in December 2011, Mitchell has ruffled more than a few feathers in Montpelier and beyond.

In the fall of 2012, six of 19 staff members left the union abruptly, several citing Mitchell's hard-charging leadership style as the reason. Last June, he was briefly fired after two top staffers brought complaints to the VSEA's board of directors. After an internal investigation, Mitchell was reinstated weeks later, and the two staffers resigned.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

House Sends Minimum Wage Increase to Shumlin

Posted By on Fri, May 9, 2014 at 10:35 PM

House leaders discuss minimum wage proposals Thursday night. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • House leaders discuss minimum wage proposals Thursday night.
The Vermont House voted 132 to 3 Friday night to raise the state's minimum wage from $8.73 to $10.50 an hour by 2018. Having passed the Senate, the legislation now goes to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who said after the vote that he would be "proud to sign it."

"I thank the legislature for doing the right thing for working Vermonters by raising the minimum wage," Shumlin said in a written statement. "Everyone who puts in a full day's work deserves a paycheck that will give their family a fighting chance."

The nearly unanimous vote came at the end of a hectic day in the Statehouse, during which legislators signed off on a final budget deal and worked late into the night to agree on a tax bill. Earlier in the evening, the Senate narrowly summoned enough votes to take up and pass legislation regulating toxic chemicals; that bill, too, now goes to the governor.

So long as House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on the tax bill by the end of the night, the legislature will remain on track to adjourn Saturday night.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Deputy Prosecutors Try Different Strategy to Unionize

Posted By on Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Windsor County Deputy State's Attorney David Cahill
  • Windsor County Deputy State's Attorney David Cahill
Two years after they launched an unsuccessful campaign for recognition as state employees, deputy prosecutors and support staffers across Vermont are trying a new tactic: They want to be unionized as county employees.

The Vermont State Employees' Association this week filed a petition with the Vermont Labor Relations Board on behalf of 55 deputy state's attorneys, victims' advocates and administrative staffers from six counties — Chittenden, Franklin, Essex, Orange, Rutland and Windsor — who want the right to collectively bargain.

The VSEA said it hopes to expand the union push to include more employees and more counties in the coming weeks, saying the workers have been left in legal limbo due to peculiarities in state law.

“Today, these workers have no right to have a voice in the determination of their working conditions, career progression or pay, but they are determined to continue their fight to obtain these rights,” said VSEA Executive Director Mark Mitchell. “State workers and their union look forward to welcoming these members into the VSEA family and working together towards a respectful first union contract.”

As Seven Days reported back in 2012, deputy state's attorneys and the other staffers find themselves in a legal black hole. Though they receive state paychecks, work at state-controlled offices and enforce state laws, Vermont does not consider them to be state employees. And, while they are hired and fired by individually elected state's attorneys, the state's attorneys don't control the budgets that dictate their deputies' pay.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bus Service Resumes but Hard Feelings Remain

Posted By on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Teamsters union representative Tony St. Hilaire announces that CCTA bus drivers had agreed to a contract  Thursday afternoon. Bus service, idle for two and a half weeks, should resume Friday morning. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Teamsters union representative Tony St. Hilaire announces that CCTA bus drivers had agreed to a contract Thursday afternoon. Bus service, idle for two and a half weeks, should resume Friday morning.
UPDATE Thursday 6:30 p.m. 

It's officially over.

The CCTA Board of Commissioners this evening unanimously ratified the
three-year contract that drivers approved this afternoon. Bus service
will resume tomorrow after a two and a half week shutdown.

"We're done," Board Chairman Tom Buckley said. "Lets roll the buses.
It's been a long slog."

But it is clear that hard feelings remain.

The board's approval came after union steward Mike Walker delivered a
passionate statement asking the board to remove all CCTA managers.
Walker told commissioners that drivers had issued a unanimous vote of
no confidence in management today for their "totalitarian, predatory
philosophy ... that is directly responsible for the current toxic

Walker said the union will be on guard against management retaliation
against drivers in the coming weeks and months.

Continue reading »

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Monday, March 31, 2014

UPDATE: CCTA Board Calls for Replacement Drivers, Possible Legal Action

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 1:35 PM

CCTA board members are making plans to hire temporary drivers and take legal action to end a strike heading into its third week. Commissioner Chapin Spencer is at left, with Chairman Tom Buckley of Winooski next to him. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • CCTA board members are making plans to hire temporary drivers and take legal action to end a strike heading into its third week. Commissioner Chapin Spencer is at left, with Chairman Tom Buckley of Winooski next to him.
Updated Monday 7:40 p.m.

The CCTA Board of Commissioners is turning up the heat on striking bus drivers.

After emerging from their second closed door session of the day this evening, commissioners instructed CCTA administrators to plan to hire  temporary replacement bus drivers or pursue legal action to end the strike if a deal is not soon reached on their disputed contract. 

"The crediblity of our service is on the line and as board members we've got to get this service going again," said commissioner Brian Palaia.

"Lets say the offer is on the table, but we've got to start planning to get the buses rolling," added commissioner Steve Magowan.

The board would have to approve either step, either of which would likely provoke the ire of striking drivers. The resolution passed by
the commissioners instructs management to report back on a plan for alternative measures by Thursday, when the board plans to reconvene.

"In the interests of restoring transit service as quickly as possible the board request that staff prepare an action plan that includes options for legal actions to end the strike and authorizes staff to secure temporary drivers for the board's approval," a draft of the
resolution reads.

The drivers union could not immediately be reached for comment.

Continue reading »

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