MONTPELIER — The Vermont Labor Relations Board ruled in a split decision Tuesday in favor of the Vermont State Employees Association in its contract dispute with the Shumlin administration.
Both parties agreed to seek a two-year labor contract to succeed the current deal that is set to expire on June 30. The two sides had difficulty agreeing to terms, however, and reached in impasse. A deal was still elusive after mediation efforts, resulting in the appointment of a mutually agreed upon fact finder who held two hearings in January. Both sides submitted their last best offers to the Vermont Labor Relations Board last month and it was tasked with choosing between them.
“In sum, we select the last best offers submitted by VSEA as more reasonable and in the public interest,” VLRB members Gary Karnady, James Kiehle and Edward Clark wrote in the majority opinion.
Two members offered their own dissenting opinions.
“I respectfully dissent from my colleagues, and conclude that the State’s last best offers are more reasonable and in the public interest,” Richard Park and Robert Greemore wrote.
VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard called the decision “terrific news” and hailed the 2 percent and 2.25 percent wage increases the contract calls for over the next two years, respectively.
“I think this is a real confirmation that the state employees have been bargaining in good faith since August with reasonable proposals that now have been confirmed by a neutral fact finder and the Vermont Labor Relations Board. This is an even-handed proposal that we are very pleased with,” Howard told the Vermont Press Bureau.
The contract will cover VSEA members in the union’s non-management, supervisory and corrections units.
The state’s offer submitted to the VLRB included a 1 percent pay increase on top of what it said will be a 1.7 percent “step increase” that employees receive based on their experience in the first year of the contract, for a total pay increase of 2.7 percent. The first year increase would apply to both the management unit and the non-management bargaining units. In the second year of the contract the state proposed a 2.95 percent bump for both units, with 1.25 percent coming in base salary increases.
The state also proposed a 0.5 percent base pay increase in both years for some members of the Vermont State Police, who have a different step increase structure.
“This is a little disappointing. I would point out it’s a split decision 3 to 2. Some members pointed out the same issues that we did,” Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson said. “At the end of the day, the biggest challenge, particularly this late in the year, is that this proposal … adds something like $11 million to costs. If someone has $11 million stashed away somewhere I’d be really interested in knowing where it is.”
Lawmakers crafting the 2017 fiscal year state budget were awaiting a final agreement to factor into the budget. The House Appropriations Committee already passed its budget plan, so the Senate must now incorporate the agreement into its budget plan.
Johnson said each 1 percent increase in salaries included in the contract will cost an additional $6 million. Johnson said Tuesday evening that the administration did not yet know if it will provide the Senate Appropriations Committee with options.
“I have the HR folks gathering the numbers so we can have a look at that. It’s going to be a challenge because it adds a bunch of costs very late in the budget season,” he said. “Now they’re going to have to sort that out.”
The majority opinion asks lawmakers to appropriate funds to cover the cost of the contract.
Howard said VSEA is planning a news conference Wednesday with all three Democratic gubernatorial candidates to call on lawmakers to fund the contract.
“It’s a look-forward, saying to the Legislature its time to follow the lead of the Democratic candidates and follow the lead of the state employees … to a conclusion that was reached by an independent body,” he said.
Read the decision below: