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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

House Votes to Hike Minimum Wage — But Not as Quickly as the Senate Would

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 6:46 PM

Rep. Matthew Trieber (D-Bellows Falls) presents the amended version of the minimum wage bill. - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Rep. Matthew Trieber (D-Bellows Falls) presents the amended version of the minimum wage bill.
The Vermont House of Representatives advanced a bill Wednesday that would speed up annual increases in the state's minimum wage but, unlike the Senate version, sets no hard date by which wages would reach $15 an hour.

The 90-53 vote, if upheld by a final vote later this week, sets up a high-stakes late-session negotiation with the Senate and a possible veto by Gov. Phil Scott, who blocked similar legislation last year.

“We’re not taking anyone out of poverty with these wages, but we are going to make their lives easier on a week-by-week basis,” said Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury).

Vermont's minimum wage is currently $10.78, and the federal minimum wage is $7.25.

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Community Health Centers of Burlington Unionization Effort Ends With Mixed Results

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2019 at 1:27 PM

The flagship clinic on Riverside Avenue - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • File: Courtney Lamdin
  • The flagship clinic on Riverside Avenue
A razor-thin majority of medical professionals at the Community Health Centers of Burlington agreed to unionize in a vote Thursday at the nonprofit organization's Riverside Avenue headquarters.

The secret ballot to join the American Federation of Teachers, Vermont union passed 43-41 among physicians, registered nurses, social workers and others at the centers' eight regional practices, according to an emailed statement from AFT-Vermont.

However, a second group of so-called "nonprofessional" staff — medical assistants and health care support staff — defeated the unionization effort by a vote of 47-32. But organizers of the effort alleged the administration unfairly impacted the election process.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Sanders Staffers Ratify First Presidential Campaign Union Contract

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 3:37 PM

Bernie Sanders supporters at a rally in Concord, N.H. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Bernie Sanders supporters at a rally in Concord, N.H.
Employees of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) campaign approved a collective bargaining agreement with management last week, the campaign and its union announced Wednesday. The contract appears to be the first of its kind ratified by a presidential campaign.

According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents Sanders staffers, the contract offers sweeping new protections to a class of workers accustomed to grueling hours and low pay.

"Political campaigns are cause-driven, and because there is always more work that can be done, staffers are typically worked to the bone," Local 400 president Mark Federici said in a written statement. "But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even political work must be subject to minimum standards."

The announcement came a day after the Sanders campaign released a 16-page "equity blueprint" outlining steps it believes such organizations should take to ensure that they are safe and inclusive. Alumni of Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign have alleged that its leaders failed to address allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination.

According to Local 400 spokesperson Jonathan Williams, the bargaining unit includes roughly 100 people and is "expected to grow to 1,000 at its peak." Williams would not disclose the vote tally but said that "the vast majority" of members supported the contract.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Community Health Centers of Burlington Employees Attempt to Unionize

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2019 at 5:18 PM

The flagship clinic on Riverside Avenue - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • The flagship clinic on Riverside Avenue
A unionization effort is under way at the Community Health Centers of Burlington, where some employees are drumming up support for the cause.

A vote on the matter is scheduled for May 9.

Dr. Peter Gunther, chief medical officer of the nonprofit health center, said employees officially informed the CHCB administration of their intent to organize on April 19, but he’d “heard rumblings weeks before.”

The union, called Community Health United, has launched a campaign seeking support prior to the May vote. Emails obtained by Seven Days show that Community Health United promises “greater transparency, a seat at the decision-making table and pay equity” for employees.

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Vermont House Backs Paid Family Leave Bill

Posted By on Thu, Apr 4, 2019 at 7:16 PM

Members of the House taking their oaths of office - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Members of the House taking their oaths of office
After a long debate Thursday, the Vermont House voted 92-52 to advance legislation that would create a mandatory, statewide paid family leave program. Though the bill won widespread support, it fell short of the two-thirds margin necessary to override a potential veto from Gov. Phil Scott.

The initiative would launch in October 2020 and allow up to 12 weeks of paid “bonding” leave for new parents and eight weeks of paid leave for workers who are sick or injured, or caring for a sick or injured spouse or relative.

During approved leave, workers would receive 90 percent of their normal pay up to $13.34 per hour, the current livable wage established by state economists. The benefit drops to 50 percent for wages above that amount.

To fund the program, businesses would be required to pay 0.1 percent of employees’ earnings beginning in April 2020. Starting in October 2020, that rate would go up to 0.55 percent, or 5.5 cents for every $10 paid to employees. Businesses would have the option to deduct those payments from employees’ checks, share the cost with workers or pay the entire cost.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Defying Feds, State Offers Unemployment to Vermonters Working Without Pay

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 2:44 PM

Department of Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Department of Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle
Updated at 4:08 p.m.

As the longest-ever government shutdown drags on, Vermont will defy the Trump administration by providing unemployment benefits to federal employees who are working without pay.

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott directed the Vermont Department of Labor to treat so-called "essential" federal employees the same as furloughed workers, who are already eligible for unemployment.

"It just seems preposterous that these folks are forced to work without receiving a check and are not eligible for unemployment," Vermont Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle told Seven Days.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Vermont Says Federal Workers Could Receive Aid for Food, Heat

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2019 at 1:30 PM

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management's website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management's website
Some federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown may qualify for assistance from aid programs in Vermont, state Department for Children and Families officials decided this week.

Sean Brown, deputy commissioner of DCF, said a federal employee inquired about benefits earlier in the week, prompting discussion that led to the decision.

“They have no ongoing expectation of income right now, with no end in sight for the shutdown,” Brown said.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Vermont Democrats Counter Scott With Mandatory Paid Leave Plan

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2019 at 12:55 PM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson
A day after Republican Gov. Phil Scott pitched a plan for a voluntary paid family leave program, the Democratic leaders of the Vermont legislature threw their support behind an alternative proposal that would provide the benefit to all Vermonters and fund it with a payroll tax.

At a Statehouse press conference Thursday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) characterized their plan as a better way to protect those helping a sick or injured relative, becoming new parents or recovering from an illness themselves.

“When that happens, a maybe secure financial situation becomes insecure lightning fast,” Ashe said.

The Democratic proposal, which is expected to be introduced soon in the Vermont House, would provide 12 weeks of leave with full pay, according to Ashley Moore, the state director of the Main Street Alliance and co-chair of the Vermont Family and Medical Leave Insurance Coalition. It would be funded by a 0.93-percent payroll tax, split evenly between employers and employees.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Scott Proposes a Paid Family Leave Partnership With New Hampshire

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 3:19 PM

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, right, with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, right, with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu
A proposal by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu would provide paid family leave for employees of both states through an insurance system that would also be open to private businesses and individuals who opt to join.

The Republican governors presented their plan Wednesday at the Schilling Beer Company in Littleton, N.H.

The proposal would allow covered employees to take up to six weeks of paid family leave while receiving 60 percent of their usual salaries. Businesses enrolling their entire staff would get a discount on premiums, Scott said, but the insurance would be available on an employee-by-employee basis as well. Workers at businesses that don’t opt in to the program could sign up individually, Scott said.

Last year, Scott vetoed a bill to create a family leave program because it was not optional, and it would have been funded by a payroll tax on Vermont businesses.

“I said last year ... that I share the goal of providing this type of benefit,” Scott said in a taproom overlooking the icy Ammonoosuc River. “I just thought we should be doing it on a volunteer basis, but I didn’t have a plan together at that point. Now we have a plan, and we have details as well.”

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Friday, October 26, 2018

DR Power Equipment Plans to Move Headquarters, Jobs From Vergennes

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2018 at 3:22 PM

Screen capture from a DR Power Equipment video - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Screen capture from a DR Power Equipment video
DR Power Equipment is moving its headquarters from Vergennes to South Burlington and relocating some operations to Wisconsin, home of its parent company, Generac Power Systems.

DR Power Equipment is part of Country Home Products, which was founded in Vergennes in 1985 and locally owned until it sold to Wisconsin-based Generac in 2015. DR makes and sells equipment for yard work.

Generac is moving most of DR Power Equipment's jobs out of Vergennes. Art Aiello, the public relations manager for Generac, said in an email that the company's shipping and repair operations are moving to Wisconsin. Twenty-six employees will be affected, though they're being offered other jobs in the company.

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