Various media reports, of which I believe Paul Heintz was first, reveal some bad and sad goings-on in the Vermont State Employees Association.
On Friday, a group of VSEA staffers called on the union’s board of trustees to oust executive director Steve Howard. Analyst Adam Norton, who represents those staffers in a union within the union, presented the trustees with a letter saying they had decided “overwhelmingly to cast a vote of no confidence in the leadership of VSEA’s executive director.”
The letter is harshly critical of Howard’s leadership. Heintz reports that the board “considered a resolution to dump Howard when his contract expires in June. Instead, the trustees tabled the discussion until their January meeting.”
Friendly fire seems to be endemic at VSEA. Howard’s predecessor, Mark Mitchell, was himself fired and then un-fired before leaving of his own accord after only a couple of years on the job.
The problem, per Heintz, is a rift within VSEA:
Friday’s fracas was just the latest flare-up between two competing factions within the organization: those who want a more aggressive, member-focused union, and those who want to work strategically with political leaders to protect state jobs.
Mitchell was more attuned to the aggressive approach, while Howard favors the strategic path.
As a pure outsider with no particular dog in this hunt, my response is: Please, VSEA, get your shit together. Figure out what you want to do, and do it. Stop with the messy infighting that only serves to diminish your bargaining power and taint your public image — and the image of all unions.
These are tough times for VSEA, what with all the state’s budget woes. But these are even tougher times for the labor movement, and what we don’t need is a prominent union prone to chasing its own tail.
If I were Steve Howard, who’s been doing his level best to preserve union jobs in a very difficult environment — and has been pretty damn successful — I’d be tempted to follow Mark Mitchell’s course and voluntarily get out of VSEA’s toxic environment. He’s an accomplished and well-connected person, and I’m sure he can find a less stressful job than this one.