There goes the Governor, kicking the hippies again

Pardon my sparse posting of late. Tweaked my back digging the potato patch. Limiting my keyboard time.

Bad, but not at all unexpected, news on the labor front. The Vermont Press Bureau’s Other Guy, Josh O’Gorman:

Negotiations between state workers and the Shumlin administration have broken down and are heading to mediation, according to the employees’ union.

Not unexpected because (a) the state’s budget is tight as a drumhead, and (b) the Shumlin administration has made a habit of hard-lining the VSEA. In the bargaining room this is standard procedure, but Shumlin also likes to take it public:

Shumlin said agreeing to the terms proposed by the VSEA would be “unconscionable.”

“That position asks for a 13.4-percent pay increase over two years, which would cost Vermont taxpayers $70.6 million,” Shumlin said. “It’s beyond me how anyone could find that position reasonable. At a time when many Vermonters are not seeing their wages rise, it would be unconscionable to agree to pay increases that are more than quadruple the rate of inflation and would add substantial pressure to an already-tight budget.”

Hmm. Unconscionable, check. Unreasonable, check. For good measure, he adds “intractable.” Also, according to VSEA President Steve Howard, Shumlin is substantially (and “disingenuously”) overstating the union’s actual pay demands, which are nothing like 13.4 percent.

Remind me again, is it the Democrats who are the party of labor?

I suppose so, but Shumlin likes to kick the unions around. Which, okay, I guess he wants to preserve his centrist bona fides, but this is one of the most irksome aspects of his governorship. When he slams the VSEA for normal negotiating tactics, or when he comes out in favor of a ban on teacher strikes (as he did this year), he is lending credence to a key Republican talking point: that unions are greedy and that public sector unions are vampires draining the lifeblood out of hardworking Vermonters.

The Republicans don’t need any help making this point, thank you very much. They’ve already managed to convince a large number of working Americans that unions are the enemy. When, in fact, the decline of unions has paralleled the decline in middle-class purchasing power. Funny, that.

In sheer political terms, the Democratic Party needs the unions, now more than ever. They’re the only institutions that can reliably fundraise on behalf of liberal causes. They’re the only ones that can come anywhere near matching the money power of the One Percent. And they are also reliable sources of volunteers to fill the ranks of Democratic campaigns.

And next year, Vermont Democrats are going to need union backing that is engaged and energized, not reluctant or perfunctory. So, with all due respect, I wish the Governor would STFU on the union bashing.

And the first Democratic candidate who promises to work with the unions to make government work better instead of picking fights with them, will win a big point in my book.

4 thoughts on “There goes the Governor, kicking the hippies again

  1. Ken Horseman

    Here he goes again….is this the same Shumlin that revered state workers after Laura Sobel’s tragic murder? Full disclosure, I’m a retired state employee and former member of the VSEA Council. But disingenuous rhetoric does the public no good nor does it help the democratic bargaining process. Putting wages and benefits aside, I hope the administration will take the union’s concerns for ALL employee safety issues ignored over the years — DCF, Corrections, AOT, Fish and Game wardens, troopers — and bargain in good faith. Less talk more action.

  2. chuck gregory

    Would that the membership of VSEA live up to your characterization! There’s a very small percentage that actually are involved; the rest don’t seem to have a clue. They are the the ones who are going to kill the union.

    1. aguazzoni

      whoa! those who are not “involved” (publicly anyway), are often too scared to because they feel that they will lose their job if they spend too much time advocating for it – particularly people like me, who haven’t worked for the state long but belong to the union. Some of us contribute verbally, via email and phone calls, but we can’t physically appear at every union event/meeting/etc. I spend a lot of time speaking out against union bashing, and I spend a lot of time advocating for the union, but to say that employees “aren’t involved” is BS. Even if you can’t see their involvement, I guarantee they are involved somehow.

      1. chuck gregory

        aguazzoni, from personal experience, I can assure you that the VSEA has very strong protections for all its members. You can stand up for your rights, those of your fellow workers and those of all Vermonters without fear.

        I find it shameful that a good 95% of those I worked with did not take the broad view and stand up for those rights and their duty to provide effective government services for all the people of Vermont. They seemed to believe that every man is an island and not part of a whole; that they would just push paper until they were notified their program was being cut and they were out of a job; that if someone else’s position was cut it wasn’t going to impair their own ability to do their job well; that Vermonters didn’t really deserve top-quality service; and that what political parties in power did had any significance for their ability to provide excellent service.

        For example: Under my chapter president, we once demonstrated publicly to support continued funding of OSHA. Coincidentally, the day before an oil refinery in Texas (where else?) had blown up due to improperly trained non-union (temporary hires) workers’ mistakes. Fewer than 1% of my district’s workers– not even our colleagues– would have been affected by layoffs, but the dozen of us who went out on the streets did so not only to support them, but to see that Vermont government did its very best to protect and empower all Vermonters.

        As Ted Turner used to say– “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” I hope this inspires you to be a better state employee.

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