Labor

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Senate Narrowly Supports Administration’s Privatization Initiative

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 5:35 PM

Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) argues against privatization of the Office of Risk Management. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) argues against privatization of the Office of Risk Management.
 The Vermont State Employees’ Association had hoped Tuesday to stop the Shumlin administration from outsourcing work now done by state employees in the Office of Risk Management — but came up two votes short in the Senate.

The Shumlin administration has been exploring whether it could save money if it contracted with a private company to process worker compensation claims and advise on work safety. Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson said state officials solicited information about the cost and services that private companies might offer. The responses suggested potential savings ranging from 35 to 55 percent, Johnson said.

The state subsequently requested bids, he said. The binding offers submitted reflected the same levels of savings, he said. The bids are under review.

The state spends $1.8 million to operate the Office of Risk Management, Johnson said. The office has a dozen employees, he said. Privatizing the operation could save the state at least $500,000 a year.

That is the amount of savings that the Senate Appropriations Committee included in its version of the budget to run state government next year.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

House Joins Call for Divestment from Coal and ExxonMobil

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 5:32 PM

Rep. Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington), lead sponsor of a  resolution calling for pension funds to divest fossil fuel stocks, addresses the House. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Rep. Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington), lead sponsor of a resolution calling for pension funds to divest fossil fuel stocks, addresses the House.
In a largely party-line vote, the House approved a resolution Friday urging the state treasurer and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee to take steps for the state’s pension funds to divest their coal and ExxonMobil stocks. The vote: 76-57.

The resolution supports the call for divestment that Gov. Peter Shumlin made in his State of the State address in January. He appealed directly to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee earlier this week.

Treasurer Beth Pearce has argued that decisions about how pension money is invested should be based on financial factors, not politics. But after Shumlin addressed the investment committee, she and VPIC agreed to look into possible divestment of coal and ExxonMobil stocks.

The House resolution focused on both the climate change and financial arguments for divesting from fossil fuel assets. It noted, for example, that a growing number of coal companies are filing for bankruptcy.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Committee Hustling Toward Vote to “Ban the Box”

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 7:51 PM

Sue Bette, owner of Bluebird Barbecue, testifies in support of a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring a job applicant to disclose a criminal record. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Sue Bette, owner of Bluebird Barbecue, testifies in support of a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring a job applicant to disclose a criminal record.
Gov. Peter Shumlin used an executive order last spring to remove questions about criminal records from applications for state jobs, thereby giving all applicants a fair chance of being considered for employment openings.

Now the House Committee on General, Housing & Military Affairs is considering a bill that would ban private employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their criminal history on the initial job application. The bill would allow employers to query applicants later in the process, such as during interviews. That approach would let applicants explain their records and possibly provide character references.

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Treasurer and Pension Panel Will Vet Shumlin's Divestment Proposal

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 12:10 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaking to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee on the issue of divestment. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin speaking to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee on the issue of divestment.
Gov. Peter Shumlin won a promise from the state treasurer and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee that they would consider his call for divesting from coal and ExxonMobil stocks.

The governor proposed divestment in his State of the State speech in January. Treasurer Beth Pearce has pushed back, saying that decisions about pension investments should be based on financial criteria, not political considerations.

But after Shumlin made his pitch to the pension investment committee Tuesday morning, citing financial — as well as moral — reasons to divest from coal and ExxonMobil, Pearce said, “I am committed to a full vetting of the issues.”

Representatives of organizations lobbying for divestment welcomed the thawing in the stance that Pearce and the panel had taken. “I see it as progress, although not as fast as any of us who support this want to see,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Paid Sick Leave Bill Is on Its Way to the Governor

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2016 at 5:49 PM

Reps. Willem Jewett (D-Ripton), Helen Head (D-South Burlington) and Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) confer with Damien Leonard, one of the legislature's lawyers, about the paid sick leave bill. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Reps. Willem Jewett (D-Ripton), Helen Head (D-South Burlington) and Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) confer with Damien Leonard, one of the legislature's lawyers, about the paid sick leave bill.
The House voted 81-64 Wednesday to go along with the Senate version of a bill that would require employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers. Lawmakers gave the bill final passage only after extended debate.

The vote fell largely along party lines, with most Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans objecting.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has already pledged to sign the measure.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Senate's Paid Sick Leave Bill Won't Exempt Small Employers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 5:54 PM

Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell
The Senate passed a paid sick leave bill Wednesday. Despite the efforts of Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington), the bill will not exempt small employers from having to offer paid sick leave.

Last Thursday, Doyle forced a second Senate vote on that issue. Since then, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell (D-Windsor) found a strategy — and the votes — to block the exemption.

While senators initially rejected a small-employer exemption, they approved an amendment that gave employers with five or fewer workers an extra year after the law went into effect — January 2017 — before the mandate would apply to them. But Doyle later asked for reconsideration, saying he had changed his mind about the rejected exemption.

Campbell bought himself some extra time to respond to this unexpected development by getting senators to agree to delay reconsideration of the exemption until this week. Wednesday afternoon, he proposed that instead of voting on the pending exemption amendment, the Senate consider his amendment calling for a study. He proposed that the Department of Labor research what sick leave benefits small businesses already offer, and effects of the mandate. The report would be due next January — a year before small employers would have to start offering paid sick leave.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Senate Gives Preliminary Approval to Paid Sick Leave

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 3:19 PM

Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) defends paid leave bill. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) defends paid leave bill.
Despite concerns about the potential effect that a paid sick leave bill might have on small businesses, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill likely to grant the benefit to 60,000 Vermonters.

The House has already passed a paid sick leave bill, and Gov. Peter Shumlin has indicated his support. The Senate is expected to debate amendments Wednesday and then take its final vote.

“Why didn’t you exempt small employers with five or fewer employees?” Sen. Brian Campion (D-Bennington) asked during debate Tuesday. “That is the part I am truly struggling with.”

Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, which unanimously recommended the bill, defended the mandate that would affect all employers. Most of the Vermont workers who are without paid sick leave work for small businesses, he said.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

National Union, Progressive Group Endorse Sanders

Posted By on Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 5:01 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns in Iowa in July - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns in Iowa in July
The 700,000-member Communications Workers of America endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential bid Wednesday morning, becoming the largest national union to do so. 

Later in the day, the Burlington-based progressive group Democracy for America did the same. 

Both organizations made their decisions at the behest of members. While most labor unions leave it to their executive boards to dole out presidential endorsements, CWA president Chris Shelton said at a Washington, D.C., press conference Thursday morning that his union pledged from the start to abide by the results of a survey of its members. 

"They voted decisively for Bernie Sanders," Shelton said. "This is absolutely a democratically come-to decision."

Similarly, DFA conducted a weeklong online poll that generated more than 271,000 votes. To win the organization's endorsement, a candidate had to win at least a two-thirds majority. In the end, Sanders took 87.9 percent, compared with 10.3 percent for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and 1.1 percent for former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. 

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Group Aims to Launch a Vermont 'Political Revolution'

Posted By on Fri, Sep 4, 2015 at 12:54 PM

Rights & Democracy's launch party poster - CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
  • Contributed photo
  • Rights & Democracy's launch party poster
On Labor Day afternoon this Monday, a swarm of people will gather in Burlington’s Battery Park. There will be lots of music, a free barbecue, ice cream, the state's most famous ice-cream makers and a kids' bouncy house.

All the frivolity is meant to entice people to a serious cause: influencing Vermont’s elections and ultimately, its public policy. The event, from 2-6 p.m., is the launch party for Rights & Democracy, a left-leaning nonprofit organization that aims to bring a “political revolution” to Vermont in 2016.

Once the music has stopped and the barbecue has been digested, RAD plans to hit the streets and knock on doors with paid canvassers to support like-minded political candidates, said director James Haslam. He left his job running the Vermont Workers’ Center in July to start this venture.

“We are very much looking to have as big an impact as we can on the election next year,” Haslam said.
 
If Rights & Democracy succeeds, political candidates who sit anywhere right of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) could find themselves in a fight.

The organization’s viewpoint might make some Republicans choke on their Cheerios. “The last thing we need is to continue in the direction we’re going and shifting further to the right,” Haslam said.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Haslam, Workers' Center Leader, Shifts Focus to Elections

Posted By on Tue, Jul 28, 2015 at 6:56 AM

James Haslam - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • James Haslam
For the past 15 years, James Haslam has built the Vermont Workers' Center into a sometimes controversial, but usually hard-to-ignore force for economic justice. Now, he's shifting his focus to politics.

Haslam announced Monday that he's stepping down as the center’s executive director in order to lead a new Vermont-based advocacy group called Rights and Democracy. It's slated to launch on Labor Day.

In his new gig, the 41-year-old Haslam hopes to elect state leaders who support causes the Workers' Center has long championed, such as livable wages, health care reform, affordable housing and environmentalism. 

Suffice it to say, Haslam is dissatisfied with what politicians in Montpelier have accomplished on those fronts.

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