Tag Archives: Steve Howard

VSEA doubles down in spite of a weak hand

The Vermont State Employees Association may be setting itself up for a fall. Or at the very least, a split within its own ranks and among its political supporters.

Last Friday, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith issued a report to Gov. Phil Scott about the prison abuse crisis, and I have to say, it looks like he’s taking this seriously and coming down hard across the board. He wrote of the need for a “culture change” in the Department of Corrections and specific changes in how administrators handle internal wrongdoing and offending personnel. He also called for drug testing for DOC employees, tougher hiring criteria and a more thorough ban on prison personnel having sex with inmates.

The VSEA accused Smith of a “knee-jerk reaction,” which is, um, ironic, don’tcha think, since it’s the VSEA itself whose knee is jerking.

In workplace disputes, labor unions’ first reaction is to protect the interests of its members. There are good and valid reasons for this. But it’s not always the best thing to do — for the health of the organization, the public interest and even the greatest good for union members.

“I think I would characterize [Smith’s report] as an overreach to try to hide from the public the fact that this case is really gross managerial and incompetence,” said VSEA executive director Steve Howard, despite the fact that Smith targeted front-line workers and administration alike. Never have I heard Smith try to blame the scandal solely on VSEA members. Indeed, his quickest and most decisive actions have been aimed at the top ranks of the DOC, not the poor downtrodden wage slaves.

Howard added that “99 percent” of DOC workers are “upstanding” employees. That percentage might be a little high, but let’s take his point at face value. Isn’t it in the interest of the 99 percent to eliminate the bad ones? It’s not only inmates who have been victimized; DOC employees themselves have reported being subject to harassment and retaliation. Shouldn’t Howard be just as quick to protect their interests?

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OneCare: “Please make us too big to fail”

As VTDigger reported a few days ago, Vermont’s public sector unions are feeling a little dubious about turning over their health care benefits to OneCare Vermont, the accountable care organization that’s beginning to develop a record of scoring own goals. For instance, OneCare seems to be (inadvertently, one would hope) doing its best to validate the unions’ concerns.

OneCare is in the process of seeking a dominant position in Vermont’s health care marketplace, by signing up as many groups and individuals as possible to its model of paying providers for outcomes instead of services performed. It’s the current hot idea in health care, and many smart people see great promise in it.

Of course, go back eight years and a lot of smart people saw great promise in then-governor Shumlin’s single-payer idea. And we know how well that went.

A little more than a month ago, OneCare went before the Green Mountain Care Board with a request for a $1.36 billion budget — a whopping 33 percent increase over last year’s. See, it’s been losing money and failing to produce the cost savings it promised.

OneCare’s explanation: It’s not big enough. Digger:

“We can’t measure success without scale,” [OneCare] CEO Vicki Loner told the Green Mountain Care Board at its budget hearing last month. The more people who participate, the more effective the system will be, she said.

Yeah, well, that may be true. But it’s also an invitation to pour more money down what might turn out to be a rathole. Loner is essentially saying that OneCare has to become too big to fail, merely in order to adequately test its health care model.

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Matt Dunne gets a major boost

I suppose they couldn’t change the timetable, but two of Vermont’s biggest unions picked a bad time to release their endorsements for governor and lieutenant governor. They were revealed on Tuesday, when practically all eyes were turned toward the last round of presidential primaries — and the few remaining eyes were focused on Governor Shumlin’s veto of S.230 and the legislative effort to rewrite the bill or override the veto.

But let’s not allow the nods to vanish into the mists of history just yet, because they are likely to carry great weight in our new, improved, low-turnout August primary.

The Vermont State Employees Association and the Vermont Labor Council AFL-CIO both opted for Matt Dunne for governor, and David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor. Last week, the VSEA’s legislative committee recommended Galbraith to its members, but the board of trustees went with Dunne after taking a straw poll among the union membership.

In both races, the unions opted for the person least associated with the Shumlin administration and the Democratic legislative caucuses. I guess that’s not surprising, given VSEA’s very contentious relationship with the administration. Just think of it as another of Shumlin’s little gifts to the Democrats who would succeed him.

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Please, VSEA, get your act together

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.

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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?

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