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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

UVM Medical Center Nurses Vote in Favor of Strike

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 12:17 PM

Union leaders, including Julie MacMillan, center, cross the street to make their announcement. - SARA TABIN
  • Sara Tabin
  • Union leaders, including Julie MacMillan, center, cross the street to make their announcement.
Updated at 6 p.m.

An overwhelming majority of the University of Vermont Medical Center’s nurses voted to authorize their union's bargaining committee to call for a two-day strike if its demands are not met when the nurses' contract runs out July 9.

Dozens of nurses gathered outside the hospital at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday for the vote result announcement. They cheered and clapped as union leaders came out of the hospital’s McClure Entrance and crossed the street to a picnic area in front of the building. Julie MacMillan, the union’s lead negotiator, announced the vote tally: 1,311 of the 1,800 union members voted, and 1,227 — 94 percent — said yes to a strike.

As the end of the nurses’ three-year contract comes comes ever closer, union negotiators have been playing hardball at the bargaining table. They have refused to meet with a national negotiator and have held press conferences and public demonstrations about what they say are public safety issues stemming from understaffing at the hospital.

The nurses claim low pay and high costs of living are preventing the hospital from retaining the number of nurses it needs to adequately care for patients. Eileen Whalen, hospital president and chief operating officer, estimated that the nurses’ average pay is $64,000 — less than the national average of $73,550 in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

UVM Medical Center Nurses to Hold Official Strike Vote

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 3:58 PM

Julie MacMillan at a press conference held by the nurses last week - SARA TABIN
  • Sara Tabin
  • Julie MacMillan at a press conference held by the nurses last week
University of Vermont Medical Center nurses moved a step closer toward a possible work stoppage when 500 union members voted almost unanimously Wednesday night in favor of holding a formal strike vote, according to Julie MacMillan, a registered nurse and the union's lead negotiator.

Nurses will vote on June 10, 11 and 12 about whether to initiate a two-day strike once the current three-year union contract ends on July 9. If a majority of members want to walk out, the union would serve the hospital a 10-day strike notice on June 29.

MacMillan said the 1,800-member union is working to nail down more bargaining dates with the hospital in the hopes of reaching a resolution before a strike. Wednesday's vote gives the bargaining committee further proof its membership is serious about its demands, she said.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Nurses, UVM Medical Center Remain at Odds Over Contract

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 6:38 PM

Nurses clapping at Friday's press conference - SARA TABIN
  • Sara Tabin
  • Nurses clapping at Friday's press conference
Amidst a tense contract bargaining negotiation, nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center announced at a press conference Friday morning that they had filed a complaint against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board. The nurses allege twenty labor violations, including unlawful unilateral changes to staffing grids and unlawful ordering of employees to remove union buttons.

Friday was meant to be the final day of negotiations, but six hours after the morning event, union leaders told hundreds of nurses and community members packed inside the Davis Auditorium that no deal had been made. The current contract is scheduled to expire on July 9.

Leaders called for members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which represents about 1,800 nurses at UVM Medical Center, to attend an all-member meeting on June 6 to voice their opinions on the union's bottom line and the methods they should use to obtain their goals.

Earlier in the day, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, rallied with the nurses outside of the hospital. The national labor leader called for the hospital to care for its community and spend money on nurses rather than on administrative salaries.

“You're acting like the Trump administration, not like a Vermont administration,” Weingarten said.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Vermont House Approves $15 Minimum Wage by 2024

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2018 at 6:25 PM

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) arguing against the minimum wage bill - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) arguing against the minimum wage bill
The Vermont House narrowly approved a bill Tuesday that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by the beginning of 2024.

The 77-69 vote came after a daylong debate that hinged on whether the minimum wage increase would help or hurt Vermont's lowest-paid workers.

“We must have the courage to tilt the playing field, the smallest amount, as slowly as possible” in favor of low-income workers, said Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury).

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Union Slams Scott Administration Over Prescription Drug Changes

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 8:32 AM

VSEA executive director Steve Howard at a Statehouse press conference - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • VSEA executive director Steve Howard at a Statehouse press conference
Updated at 11:03 a.m.

The Vermont State Employees' Association denounced a decision by Gov. Phil Scott’s administration that will make it more difficult for its members to access certain prescription drugs.

The governor's administration sent the union a list of nearly 170 medications that, beginning next January, will be excluded from state workers’ health insurance plans. That means current and retired employees will either have to switch to a cheaper alternative, if one exists, or file an appeal to continue receiving their medication.

The list includes a number of common drugs such as Adderall, blood glucose meters and test strips, EstroGel, Prozac, Valium and Xanax.

“They’re putting their desire to save money over the medical needs of retirees and state employees and their families,” said VSEA executive director Steve Howard.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Racial Slurs Common at Vermont Psychiatric Hospital, Report Finds

Posted By on Mon, Feb 5, 2018 at 1:50 PM

The Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital - DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH
  • Department of Mental Health
  • The Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital
An African American employee was repeatedly subjected to racist comments and actions by both patients and staff at the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital, according to a state Human Rights Commission report.

Ismina Francois, a mental health specialist, made repeated complaints about the widespread use of racial slurs and racial insensitivities at the facility in Berlin but a culture of intolerance persisted, a commission investigator found.

For example — despite Francois' prior complaints — a hospital staffer assigned her to care for a racist patient with a swastika tattoo who had previously lunged at Francois and yelled "get that nigger away from me."

Traveling nurses who worked temporary stints at the hospital reported being surprised at how often patients used racial slurs. And other employees used terms like "nappy hair," "hood car," "fried chicken," "colored people" and speculated about Francois being on "welfare," according to the report.

"A reasonable person could conclude that the offensive jokes, slurs, epithets, name calling, insults and put-downs by patients and coworkers were pervasive," Human Rights Commission investigator Bor Yang wrote in the 35-page report finalized in January.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ben & Jerry's Vows to Better Conditions for Migrant Workers

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 5:43 PM

Will Lambek, left, and Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Will Lambek, left, and Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice
After more than two years of prodding by a local migrant farmworker advocacy group, Ben & Jerry's has agreed to improve employee conditions at the farms in its supply chain.

Members of Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry's CEO Jostein Solheim announced the deal Tuesday during a celebratory gathering in front of the ice cream shop on Church Street in Burlington. Solheim touted the program as "first in the dairy industry, first in the world."

Then he and members of Migrant Justice signed the Milk With Dignity contract that will eventually be applied to all northeastern farms in Ben & Jerry's supply chain.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Back to School: Striking Burlington Teachers Reach Agreement With Board

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 10:17 PM

Strikers picketing on Friday - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Strikers picketing on Friday
Burlington schoolchildren will be back in class Wednesday after the conclusion of the city's second-ever teachers' strike.

The Burlington Education Association and the Burlington School Board reached a tentative agreement Tuesday shortly before 8 p.m., ending a labor dispute that kept 3,600 students out of school for four days.

Many parents sighed with relief that the bitter dispute was over. The details of the agreement will not be public until the board and union ratify the terms. The union is set to vote on it Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the Burlington High School auditorium. The school board had not set a vote time Tuesday evening.

The last teachers' strike in Burlington was in 1978, according to the Vermont-National Education Association.

Joanna Grossman of Burlington's South End cheered the news that an eight-hour mediation session Tuesday resulted in a deal. Her daughter was set to return to her second-grade class at Champlain Elementary School.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Burlington Teachers Vote to Strike If Contract Battle Is Not Resolved

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 7:18 PM

Burlington teachers rallying for raises in the Edmunds Middle School cafeteria August 31 - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Burlington teachers rallying for raises in the Edmunds Middle School cafeteria August 31
Burlington teachers will go on strike Wednesday unless their contract battle with the city school board is resolved.

Teachers voted to strike Thursday afternoon. The move escalated the tension in a messy labor dispute and created uncertainty for parents of the city's 3,700 public school students.

“Moments ago, my fellow members and I voted to authorize a strike beginning on September 13 if the board fails to come back to the table and stay there until we reach an agreement for a contract covering this school year,” said Fran Brock, Burlington Education Association president, in a press release issued late Thursday afternoon.

Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher, lashed out at the board for imposing contract terms last Friday and also accused the board of neglecting student needs.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Walters: House Speaker, Union Leaders Very Publicly Air Grievances

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2017 at 12:51 PM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson meets with labor leaders at the Statehouse cafeteria. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson meets with labor leaders at the Statehouse cafeteria.
Tuesday morning brought an extraordinary moment in the Vermont legislature's end-of-session drama: House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) met publicly with a couple dozen labor leaders in the Statehouse cafeteria to air their differences on how to end the standoff between the Democratic legislature and Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

At issue is Scott's demand that negotiations for teacher health care benefits be done on a statewide basis — the best way, he says, to maximize taxpayer savings from pending changes in health insurance due to the federal Affordable Care Act. Democrats have pushed back on Scott's idea as an encroachment on the collective bargaining process between teachers and local school boards. House and Senate leaders have sought common ground with the governor, so far without success.

Johnson's plan has not been made public, but its outline has been widely circulated. It would leave negotiations at the local level while establishing statewide parameters for health care bargaining.

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