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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

Opinion
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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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Opinion
Walters: State Data Breach Much Larger Than First Thought

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 8:20 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott and Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle
Gov. Phil Scott announced Thursday that a data breach at a state contractor affects far more Vermonters than initially thought.

The breach happened at a private firm called America’s Job Link Alliance, which contracts with Vermont and nine other states to provide a database for job seekers and employers. Under state law, anyone who applies for unemployment benefits — unless they have a firm return-to-work date within 10 weeks — is required to register with JobLink and regularly use the site to search for work.

Scott said the personal data — name, address, birthdate and Social Security number — of all applicants may have been compromised, going all the way back to the year 2003, when the state began contracting with AJLA. That’s a total of 180,000 applicants in Vermont.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Vermont House Panel Backs Paid Family Leave

Posted By on Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 7:24 PM

Vermont Statehouse - FILE
  • File
  • Vermont Statehouse
A House committee passed a pared-down paid family leave bill that would obligate all Vermont employees to contribute to a program that would provide 12 weeks of paid time off for certain medical situations.

By a 7-4 vote, the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee advanced the legislation. It’s unclear, however, whether the bill — strongly opposed by business organizations — will make it through the full legislature this year.

The legislation calls for a 0.93 percent mandatory tax on all employees in Vermont. That money would go into a pool to pay for up to 12 weeks time off for the birth of a child, a serious personal illness or caring for a seriously ill family member starting in 2019.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Anticipated State Revenues Are Down in Economic Report

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 2:32 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and the legislative money committee chairs listen to economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr on Thursday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Gov. Phil Scott and the legislative money committee chairs listen to economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr on Thursday.
Economists told the state’s Emergency Board on Thursday that Vermont is likely to see less money coming in over the next two years than previously thought.

For fiscal year 2017, which lasts through June, the state can expect to see $24.6 million less in general fund revenues than had been anticipated. For the 2018 budget, Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders were told to expect $7.7 million less than previously thought. And in 2019, expectations were curtailed by $10.4 million.

To handle the blow in the current 2017 budget, Scott’s financial team doesn’t seem to be sweating the details. Finance Commissioner Andy Pallito said he is proposing to tap into various reserve funds and areas where spending was less than expected.

The 2018 figures are being built into Scott’s much-anticipated first state budget, which he will release next Tuesday. “We were forecasting this,” he said. But he bemoaned, “We’re starting with less revenue than last year.”

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Opinion
Walters: State Treasurer Refutes Scott’s Pension Idea

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 10:32 AM

Rep. Don Turner speaks with Treasurer Beth Pearce - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Don Turner speaks with Treasurer Beth Pearce
Republican governor-elect Phil Scott remains interested in shifting public-sector pension plans from “defined benefit” to “defined contribution,” an idea Vermont labor unions say is a nonstarter.

Well, he’s interested in his own elliptical way.

“Yeah, sure, we want to take a look at that,” he told Seven Days last week. “We’ll continue to have that conversation and debate the issue and make our case for why that might be good to consider for future hires. But we’ll take a look.”

Commitment, Phil Scott style: “Have that conversation,” “debate the issue,” “consider,” and, not once but twice, “take a look.” All in one paragraph.

As long as Scott plans to “take a look” at that, Democratic state Treasurer Beth Pearce plans to fight back.

Currently, members of the Vermont State Employees’ Association and Vermont-National Education Association — the state’s largest public-sector unions — enjoy defined benefit pensions: They are guaranteed certain retirement benefits. In a defined contribution system, employer and employee pay into a retirement account, but no specific benefits are promised.

Scott touts defined contribution as a way to cut the cost of public sector pensions. But Pearce argues that it will reduce pension security without saving money — not in the short term, not in the long term.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Scott Names Former Burlington Police Chief Commerce Secretary

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 4:36 PM

Mike Schirling - MATTHEW THORSEN/FILE
  • Matthew Thorsen/File
  • Mike Schirling
Governor-elect Phil Scott named former Burlington police chief Mike Schirling his commerce secretary and tapped central Vermont small business owner Lindsay Kurrle to lead the Department of Labor.

Scott made the announcements Friday afternoon as he slowly fills cabinet positions ahead of his January 5 inauguration.

Schirling, who retired from the police force in 2015, has been executive director of the economic development and technology nonprofit organization BTV Ignite for a little more than a year.

Scott cited Schirling’s innovation and leadership experience in hiring him to run an agency that will be under particular pressure to produce results. Scott campaigned on a promise of generating economic growth.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Opinion
Walters: Scott Pension Proposal Riles Labor Unions

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 9:01 PM

Governor-elect Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Governor-elect Phil Scott
Governor-elect Phil Scott is advocating a fundamental change in pension plans for members of public-sector labor unions — one that is steadfastly opposed by the unions themselves.

Currently, public school teachers and state workers receive “defined benefit” plans, which establish certain retirement benefits to be received by each worker. Scott favors a “defined contribution” plan, in which the state and the employee would contribute set amounts, which might or might not cover the cost of a retiree’s golden years.

Scott would allow current staffers to keep their defined benefits, while future workers would fall under a defined contribution system. But as far as Vermont’s two biggest public sector unions are concerned, the notion is a non-starter.

“We are steadfastly opposed to the idea and will continue to be,” says Doug Gibson, a spokesman for the Vermont State Employees’ Association.

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