Category Archives: Labor

Tim Ashe Respectfully Requests You Ignore That Stupid Thing He Tweeted

Oops, that’s the other Ash

Tim Ashe, former Senate President Pro Tem and current deputy state auditor, stepped right into it Sunday afternoon. He immediately tried to step back, but the shit was plastered all over his shoe.

Ashe, who is widely expected to run for [insert office here] sometime soon, put out a Tweet criticizing Democrats (not directly by name; he might be running in a party primary any day now) for failing to enact paid family leave.

Nice try. The problem is, as anyone who’s been following Vermont politics for more than about five minutes knows, is that under his leadership the Senate was the biggest obstacle in the path of paid leave. For several years running, as Democrats were trying to enact paid leave and a minimum wage increase, the House favored leave and the Senate favored wage. Each effectively stood in the way of the other. And Ashe repeatedly raised objections to paid leave.

After a bunch of Tweeters called him out, Ashe quickly deleted the tweet. Unfortunately for him, screenshots are a thing.

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The Bloated Corpse of Bruce Lisman’s Political Career Emerges From the Stygian Depths, Emits a Gas Bubble, Sinks Back Into the Murk From Whence It Came

Oh wait, sorry, that’s Swamp Thing

Once upon a time, there was a retired Wall Street executive named Bruce Lisman*. After his investment firm cratered in the Collapse of 2008, he moved to Vermont and turned his attention to politics. (He should have checked with Rich Tarrant or Jack McMullen on how that tends to work out.) First, he launched a putatively nonpartisan advocacy group called Campaign for Vermont Prosperity. It was usually referred to as “Campaign for Vermont” in an apparent effort to camouflage Lisman’s pro-business agenda.

*Who may or may not have been thoroughly skewered in the movie “The Big Short.”

CFV accomplished little besides spending a goodly portion of Lisman’s fortune. It put out the occasional paper, held sparsely-attended policy forums, did a bit of lobbying, and paid some college students to show the CFV flag at public events. (I dubbed them “Lisketeers.”) There was precious little grass in CFV’s roots.

A few years later, Lisman made the seemingly inevitable run for governor. He spent heavily on his campaign but ran into a buzzsaw named Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who beat him in the Republican primary by 21 percentage points.

That was the end of Lisman’s political aspirations. He stopped bankrolling CFV, which somehow continued to exist as a center-right, pro-business advocacy group. Some well-meaning people are involved in CFV, but honestly, itbarely makes a ripple in Vermont politics. Whenever CFV does something, I find myself asking “Oh, are you still here?”

CFV’s website is laden with position papers and press releases dated from 2014 and 2015. It does occasionally burp out some new content, as it did last week with a “New Report on Pension Issues.” And though I run the risk of killing a gnat with an elephant gun, I feel compelled to expose this piece of half-assed propaganda. You know, just in case someone takes it seriously.

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That Was Not An Apology

Can we please stop saying someone “apologized” when they didn’t?

In this case, I’m referring to the VTDigger article entitled “Labor commissioner apologizes to legislators following unemployment benefit snafu.”

That would be Michael Harrington, allegedly apologizing for the administration’s failure to inform lawmakers in a timely manner that the federal government might block a supplemental unemployment benefit enacted by the Legislature. But what he actually did was take the coward’s way out.

Speaking at a hearing on the snafu in question, Harrington said this: “If the primary concern is that we didn’t inform the Legislature in what they feel was a timely manner, I apologize.”

That statement failed on two counts. First, when you put in an “if” you’re diverting responsibility from yourself to the injured party. A real apology doesn’t do that. It simply accepts the blame.

Harrington then blame-shifts some more when he adds “what they feel.”

A real apology would accept all responsibility without reservation. Harrington fudged. Twice.

These non-apology “apologies” are offensive, and non-apologizers shouldn’t get credit for something they didn’t really do.

“Oopsie,” Says the Administration’s Oopsie Master (UPDATED)

Note: Updated below with comments from Gov. Scott.

Welp, the Scott administration, deliberately or otherwise, pulled a fast one on the Legislature. Remember that painfully-negotiated unemployment insurance deal? The one that obtained a supplemental $25/week in UI benefits in exchange for a great big tax break for businesses?

Yeah, well, you’re not getting the 25 bucks. I’ll assume that the businesses still get their [checks notes] $300 million over 10 years.

Yep, Vermont’s jobless — and the Legislature — took it in the shorts.

The problem, as VTDigger’s Fred Thys reports, is that the federal government has ruled that the extra benefit can’t be paid out of the state’s unemployment trust fund.

Here’s where the frequently embattled Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington comes in. He received word on June 14 that the feds might have a problem with the benefit as written.

He informed the Legislature on… wait for it… August 24.

He said he didn’t take action until he got definitive word from the feds. But the delay also meant the Legislature had no chance to take corrective action, which would have been pretty simple. “Hindsight is always 20-20,” Harrington said, unhelpfully.

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So Many Sad Crocodiles

I tried to watch Tuesday’s kabuki performance hearing of the House Government Operations Committee, but was repeatedly thwarted by a bad Internet connection. (Thanks, Consolidated Communications!) Still, I saw enough to realize what was going on. And enough to be completely fed up with all the expressions of dismay from Democratic officeholders.

The short version: The fix is in. The skids are greased. Following two days of dog-and-pony public hearings, the committee picked up on Tuesday exactly where it left off on Friday afternoon: Charging ahead with a reform plan that will substantially devalue pensions for teachers and state employees.

So, thanks to all those who testified. For your time and trouble, you get a lovely parting gift: our Pension Reform Home Game. Now you can play God with other people’s pensions, just like our legislative leaders!

One thing every committee member can agree on (well, except the three Republicans, they don’t seem to mind at all) is that these are difficult, painful conversations. In the brief statement she read at the beginning of the second public hearing Monday, committee chair Sarah Copeland Hanzas used the word “difficult” three times. “These are really difficult conversations,” “Everyone has had a tremendously difficult year,” “this conversation couldn’t have come at a more difficult time.” In her testimony on Tuesday, Treasurer Beth Pearce said “When we gave our recommendations, we did so with a great deal of reluctance… these are painful.” Other Dems chimed in with similar expressions of saditude throughout Tuesday’s hearing.

Pardon me if I can’t appreciate the self-pity parade. These conversations are waaaaay less “difficult” for elected officials than for the folks who’ll take it in the shorts if this plan (or something like it) takes effect.

Here’s another thing that’s cratering my sympathy for our poor hard-working betters: They’re lying about where we are in the process.

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Well, it’s not a flaming bag of poo

With no advance warning, the House Government Operations Committee on Wednesday rolled out a reform plan for Vermont’s underfunded public sector pensions. And from the unions’ point of view, it could hardly be worse.

Before I get to the details, I’ll define “no advance warning.” On Wednesday morning, the committee first heard a proposal to restructure the pensions under a single Vermont Retirement Commission. That plan was posted to the committee’s website very shortly before the hearing began. Two lawmakers broadly hinted that they were reading it for the first time, with no chance to digest or formulate questions.

Ditto the pension reform plan. It was posted to the committee’s “Documents & Handouts” webpage only two minutes before its hearing was to begin.

For an issue as complicated as pension reform, this is unconscionable.

Well, it’d be fine if we were at the beginning of a normal legislative timeline with plenty of hearings and back-and-forth and rewrites of the legislation. But as far as I can see, we’re not going to get any of that. As I said in my previous post, legislative leaders are hellbent on enacting pension reform this year. If they’re going to hew to that ambitious timeline, Gov Ops would have to vote out an actual bill within days.

There were a few signs of exactly how rushed these proposals were. Rep. Bob Hooper asked if a cost analysis had been done on the new Retirement Commission. The answer was “No.” Later he noted that the reduction in benefits seemed out of proportion with projected savings; apparently a full fiscal analysis has yet to be done.

Whenever they want to slow-play an issue, legislative leaders usually claim that there’s not enough time to give the issue the scrutiny it deserves. If this pension plan gets fast-tracked, I don’t ever want to hear that excuse again.

After the jump: The grim details.

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Special Delivery

Now, I’m not saying the House Democrats are ready to deliver a flaming bag of poo regarding public sector pensions. It’s just that all the signs point in that direction.The teachers’ and state employees’ unions should take care with any packages they find on the doorstep.

Because, apparently, the behind-closed-doors work has just about wrapped up. And suddenly, the House Government Operations Committee’s schedule is packed with pension-related hearings — leading up to the oft-promised public hearing on the as-yet-unreleased plan at the Traditional Newsdump Hour of Friday afternoon.

You know how rare it is for the Legislature to do anything substantive after 4:00 pm on a Friday? The only time it usually happens is during the last-ditch rush to adjournment.

And now, with a mere three days’ notice, the House Dems have scheduled a public hearing from 4:00 to 6:00 Friday. On a proposal that, as I might have already noted, hasn’t been made public as of this writing.

Friday’s dog-and-pony-show hearing will feature a parade of speakers who will each get three minutes to say their piece. Up to, presumably, the 120-minute time limit. That means, let me see, a total of 40 speaking slots. Forty! On an issue that touches the retirement security of thousands of Vermonters! You can register here; I suggest you do it fast.

It’s possible that the Dems have crafted a pension reform plan acceptable to all parties. But every sign points in the opposite direction. Secrecy? Check. Sudden effusion of hearings? Check. Little notice before a public hearing? Check. Public hearing scheduled for the Friday afternoon dead zone?

Check and double-check.

Did I mention there’s no actual bill yet? At least not one that’s publicly available.

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A Canard Comes Home to Roost

Vermont’s “business leaders” scored a rare double last week. Their complaints resulted in stories published on the same day by Seven Days and VTDigger. Congratulations.

The articles trod the same well-worn path: The Usual Suspects in the business community are raising fears that proposed state unemployment benefits will hurt their efforts to attract workers. Both stories are replete with quotes from worried business owners and their paid lobbyists.

Because, as we all know, workers are inherently lazy. And the lower they are on the totem pole, the lazier they become — all the way down to the mythical creature known as the Welfare Queen.

In these stories, you won’t read any quotes from actual workers. Nor will you see anything from business groups that aren’t cut from the Chamber cloth. It’d be nice to know how Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and the Main Street Alliance see things before deciding whether we should consider “business leaders” as united on the moral hazard of unemployment insurance.

It’s true that many unemployed people have gotten more in Covid-enhanced UI than they could expect to earn in their line of work, and that would again be the case under S.10. I’d argue this says more about the overabundance of low-paying jobs than about the excessive generosity of pandemic benefits. And there’s plenty of research that shows that the “business leaders'” fears are unfounded; that the effect of temporarily sweetened UI on the supply of available workers is negligible at most.

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Gloves Off, Let’s Go

Says here Vermont’s public sector unions are feeling anxious about closed-door talks on how to fix their pension plans. Can’t say I blame them. The 2021 session is more than halfway done, Speaker Jill Krowinski is determined to get something done by then, and there’s been not a peep about what a fix might look like. And since Treasurer Beth Pearce has outlined exactly how drastically pensions might change, the teachers’ and state employees’ union have every right to be concerned.

And this is the time to show their concern through hardball, sharp-elbow politics. Give ’em hell. Threaten a cutoff of union support for any lawmaker who supports a major cut in pension benefits or a major increase in employee pay-in. Get in there and throw some elbows.

Mind you, I’m not talking right and wrong here. I’m talking the timely application of leverage.

The VSEA and VT-NEA are two of the most powerful forces in the Vermont Democratic Party. They provide financial support, volunteers, and lots of voters. They have earned a great deal of influence in party circles. That influence should be brought to bear, right now if not sooner.

You’d think this wouldn’t be necessary. You’d think the Legislature’s Demo/Prog majority would be working with the unions to resolve this crisis. But union lobbyists say otherwise.

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Three Mulligans and Counting

Lookin’ a little sweaty there, bud.

Submitted for your consideration: Michael Harrington, commissioner of the Department of Labor, and three-time offender against good government.

The latest offense is a massive cockup in printing IRS Forms 1099 for Vermonters who collected unemployment benefits in 2020. Tens of thousands of people received forms that contained other people’s personal information instead of their own, which is a low-tech kind of privacy breach in our age of digital hacking.

This will require a costly fix. DOL will reprint all 180,000 forms and mail them all out, plus it will provide prepaid envelopes to those who got bad 1099s so they can return the faulty forms at no cost. Harrington also said his department has contacted the Attorney General’s office as required by state law, in case there are legal repercussions.

VTDigger reports that this is DOL’s second data breach since the pandemic began. The first, back in March, saw DOL send nearly six thousand Vermonters’ Social Security numbers to employers not connected with their cases.

But while it was the second data breach, it was the third major administrative failure by DOL during the pandemic.

Deets after the jump.

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