Steve Howard

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VSEA, Democratic candidates call for funding labor contract

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association and the three Democratic candidates for governor are calling on lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract for state workers recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board, but Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin says it is too costly. The VSEA and the candidates — Matt Dunne, Sue Minter and Peter Galbraith — held a State House news conference Wednesday calling on the Legislature to include a 2 percent salary increase for state workers in the 2017 fiscal year state budget and a 2.25 percent increase in the 2018 fiscal year budget. That increase was recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board Tuesday in a 3 to 2 split decision over the Shumlin administration’s proposal for a 1 percent increase in 2017 and a 1.25 percent increase in 2018. VSEA President Dave Bellini said Wednesday the union has been seeking a fair contract through collective bargaining since last August that respects state employees. “You show respect and support by putting your money where your mouth is — funding our contracts, our retirements, making investments in safety for the hardworking Vermonters who are state employees,” he said. Continue Reading →

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VSEA prevails with the Vermont Labor Relations Board

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. Continue Reading →

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State and VSEA send labor contract dispute to the Labor Relations Board

MONTPELIER — A labor contract dispute between the Vermont State Employees Association and the state is now before the Vermont Labor Relations Board, which will hold a hearing early next month on the ongoing disagreement. Both parties have agreed to seek a two-year labor contract to succeed the current deal set to expire on June 30. But coming to terms on the finer details of deal has been elusive. After reaching an impasse in negotiations, both sides agreed to mediation, but still did not find agreement. A fact finder was appointed and held two hearings in January. Continue Reading →

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VSEA’s Howard under fire from within

MONTPELIER — A unionized group of staffers for the Vermont State Employees Association has voted to express “no confidence” in Executive Director Steve Howard as internal conflicts continue to brew inside the union. The Staff Alliance, which represents about 20 staff members within the VSEA, recently voted on whether they support Howard, according to a letter from the Staff Alliance to union leaders and members that was obtained by the Vermont Press Bureau. “Having the benefit of fifteen months of experience working under the leadership of Director Howard, Staff Alliance is now prepared to share our professional judgment. Following serious deliberation, the Staff Alliance has voted overwhelmingly to cast a vote of no confidence in the leadership of VSEA’s Executive Director,” the letter states. “This is not a decision we take lightly, however it is our mutual belief that the current level of distrust between Staff and Management, under the direction of Director Howard, is unsustainable and detrimental to the membership at-large.”

The letter includes a litany of accusations against Howard, a former Democratic state representative from Rutland and the former chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party. Continue Reading →

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State employee union holding strong to 5-percent salary increase

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association is walking back a claim that it offered an alternative proposal during recent labor negotiations with the state. The union has declared an impasse in its contract negotiations for approximately 3,000 state workers and has called for an outside mediator; in response, Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a statement claiming the union has not budged from its initial proposal of of a 5 percent cost of living increase, a claim refuted Wednesday by union Executive Director Steve Howard. Howard said that, prior to walking away from the table Tuesday, labor negotiators had proposed a cost of living increase of 2 percent, a statement contradicted Thursday by Maribeth Spellman, commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources. “I was really surprised to see what Steve Howard said because it’s not true,” Spellman said. “At no time did the VSEA move off of their proposal of 5 percent a year, and if he is proposing 2 percent, that is news for us.”

On Thursday, Howard acknowledged his statement regarding the 2 percent proposal was incorrect. Continue Reading →

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Labor talks between VSEA and administration collapse

MONTPELIER – Negotiations between state workers and the Shumlin administration have broken down and are heading to mediation, according to the employees’ union. More than two months of weekly negotiations between the state and the Vermont State Employees Association have resulted in a stalemate and will require a mediator, according to union president Steve Howard. “It is clear labor and management cannot find a middle ground and we need to bring in an outside mediator,” Howard said of negotiations for the approximately 3,000 employees that compose the non-management bargaining unit of the union. The negotiations, which began in early August, have been rocky, with, at one point, state workers taking to the streets in protest when the state canceled one of the regularly scheduled negotiation meetings. Howard said the two sides have made little progress toward a compromise. Continue Reading →

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VSEA dealing with internal conflict, potential lawsuit

MONTPELIER — A labor contract dispute between the Vermont State Employees’ Association and its non-management unionized staff could end up in court if the two sides are unable resolve it internally. VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard disclosed the dispute between VSEA management and Staff Alliance, the union that represents its 18 non-management staff members, in an internal memo obtained by the Vermont Press Bureau. The memo was sent to VSEA members and staff on Tuesday. According to Howard’s memo, the conflict involves a grievance between staff and VSEA leadership. “We are trying to resolve a dispute over a Step III grievance decision that substantially expands the remedies available to the staff union, leading to potentially substantial liabilities in this and future grievances, and also undermining VSEA’s ability to manage the workplace to ensure that staff can work in an environment that is free of abusive or bullying behavior,” Howard wrote in the memo to the thousands of state employees VSEA represents. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin seeks level-funded budgets from agencies and departments

MONTPELIER — Work on Vermont’s 2017 fiscal year state budget is beginning with instructions from the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin to agency and department heads to prepare for level funding. Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson sent a memo to commissioners and secretaries Tuesday telling them that budget instructions are pending, but funding will be limited. “Although Vermont’s revenues are projected to increase moderately for the fiscal year, we continue to experience fiscal pressures that will make it challenging to craft a responsible budget within available revenue,” he wrote in the memo. Johnson said general government costs, including increased employee pay, pension costs and the state’s debt service “will consume a significant portion of revenue growth in FY 2017.” And, the “federal budget process is as dysfunctional as ever,” he wrote. That means there is greater demand on state resources, Johnson said. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers look to retirement bonuses to save the state money

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has proposed a retirement incentive package for state employees that could save the state $2.5 million, providing most of the retirees are not replaced. Monday morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed a proposal that would offer financial bonus to as many as 300 employees who are already eligible to retire, with the goal of leaving 75 percent of those positions vacant after the employees retire. The offer would be open to employees who are at least 62 years old and have put in at least 5 years of service; employees with at least 30 years of service; and employees whose age and years of service totals 87 or more. The proposal would pay employees who have worked at least 5 years and less than 15 years a bonus of $750 for every year worked. Employees who have 15 or more years would receive $1,000 for every year worked. Continue Reading →

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Administration, VSEA find some savings, still far short of $10.8 million target

MONTPELIER — Ongoing talks between the Shumlin administration and the Vermont State Employees Association have resulted in some identified savings, but the union is still not interested in reopening its contract to help secure the remainder of the $10.8 million in labor savings the administration is seeking. The administration says it needs to cut $10.8 million in labor costs in order to close a $113 million budget gap. The union, meanwhile, has proposed ways to raise revenue instead. The administration has shrugged off those proposals, however, and says it will seek as many as 300 layoffs to achieve the requisite savings if the union does not renegotiate some terms.
The House has passed a passed a budget that incorporates a generic $10.8 million in labor savings. Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson, following another meeting with the union Thursday, said his team has found about $2 million in savings by freezing salaries for exempt employees earning more than $100,000 a year, reducing the use of temporary employees and rescinding some benefits to designated managers. Continue Reading →

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