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Vermont's Unionized Workers Under Pressure to Pay More 

Published February 17, 2011 at 9:06 a.m.

No expectations that Vermont will see some of the massive labor protests currently going on in Wisconsin, where the Republican governor has said he'd like to pretty much do away with state employees' collective bargaining rights.

The Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has even asked the state National Guard to be ready to keep the peace if protests get out of hand and workers fail to show up on the job.

Along with doing away with most collective bargaining rights, Walker also wants state employees to pay more for health care premiums and retirement benefits.

As noted in this week's "Fair Game," Vermont's workforce was asked to make similar benefits concessions. Late Tuesday, the 120-member executive council of the Vermont State Employees Association agreed to the concessions, which will mean state employees will kick in more toward their own health care and retirement benefits.

The concessions are part of a $12 million package of labor cost savings that Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration has proposed. Other savings will come from keeping about half of the anticipated vacant positions unfilled.

In other labor updates from stories in this week's Seven Days:

Teachers on Strike?

South Burlington teachers and the school board remain at odds over a proposed contract offer for this school year. The School Board voted Wednesday night to impose a contract on the nearly 300 teachers — who are some of the highest-paid teachers in Vermont. The teachers have already set a March 2 strike date and are giving no indication that they won't make good on that promise.

As noted in this week's paper, school boards and teachers are increasingly threatening to use the "nuclear option" in their bargaining arsenal. For school boards, that means imposing contracts on staff. For teachers, that means going on strike.

The last teachers' strike in Vermont was in 2006.

"For the first time in half a century, the South Burlington School Board ended negotiations and imposed working conditions on the men and women who teach the city's children," said Richard Wise, co-president of the South Burlington Educators' Association. "No board in this district has ever done this, and we reject this imposition."

The teachers will hold a strike vote March 2. "It's up to the board now to prevent a disruption in the school year," Wise said.

One of the main sticking points is the board's desire to push a provision that would allow it to impose working conditions and not have to honor negotiated salary schedules, otherwise known as "step increases."

Legislative Pay Raises

As noted in "Fair Game" lawmakers are following in Gov. Shumlin's footsteps and offering raises to a select few staffers that help them run the show under the Golden Dome — including several attorneys.

A handful of those staffers received pay raises on January 1, ranging from one to seven percent. Then, lawmakers hatched a plan to give four workers — three lawyers and one non-lawyer — extra pay in order to compensate them for taking on some extra work and duties left to them by their departing boss, Emily Bergquist, the director of Legislative Council.

House Speaker Shap Smith tells Seven Days the workers have accepted the extra work, and extra pay, but the pay will be pro-rated for the three-and-a-half months allotted for the legislative session. But, the extra pay is only good for the legislative session and may not be good for the full year. "We told them there is no guarantee in the new fiscal year that that higher rate of pay will continue," said Smith.

In other words, though their pay, in some cases, will be the equivalent of an annualized raise of $5000 to nearly $10,000, only about a third of is anticipated to be spent. At most, Smith said, a few workers could see an extra $3500 in pay during the session.

The additional personnel costs will come from existing funds and are not expected to increase the overall legislative budget, Smith noted.

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Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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