Tag Archives: Vermont State Employees Association

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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I don’t think Phil Scott’s going to get that VSEA endorsement

Oh look, here’s Mr. Leadership, Phil Scott, ducking out on another potentially uncomfortable interaction. He’s still resolutely passing on events staged by Rights and Democracy. And now, this week, the Vermont State Employees Association held forums for the gubernatorial candidates, seeking their views on issues related to the state’s workforce.

And guess who didn’t show up.

Lt. Gov Phil Scott, who is running for governor, was invited but did not attend either forum.

That’s right, kids. Democrats Sue Minter, Matt Dunne, and Peter Galbraith all made it, as did Republican Bruce Lisman. But not our brave and fearless would-be Leader. I guess there was a chili cook-off somewhere.

If he couldn’t be bothered to give a little face time to the employees he’d like to lead, at least he took the time (or someone on his staff did) to answer some written questions from VSEA.

His answers, however, are unlikely to earn him any union love. He sometimes sounds more like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker than the moderate Republican he purports to be. Otherwise, well, he ducks and dives a lot. Hey, it’s leadership the Phil Scott Way!

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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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Vermont Dems bring back a familiar face

Didn’t take long for the Vermont Democratic Party to line up a replacement for departing Executive Director Julia Barnes. The VDP is announcing today that Conor Casey will be her successor.

“I’ve been a Democrat my whole life,” he says. “It’s an honor to be in this position.”

If the name sounds familiar, well, Casey spent eight years working for the Vermont State Employees Association, most recently as “widely respected legislative coordinator,” as he was dubbed by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz.

Casey’s tenure ended in 2012 when then-new VSEA Director Mark Mitchell was pulling a Samson act, causing six staffers to leave due to his “untrustworthy and reckless manner,” as one of the ex-staffers put it. Mitchell also burned more than a few bridges in the Statehouse. His year-and-a-half on the job included one firing and one reinstatement before he left in May 2014.

Meanwhile, Casey’s been working for the National Educational Association in Connecticut, from whence he now returns. His decade-plus in the labor movement is, I think, worthy of note:

“My background is as a labor organizer. I’ve spent my career representing working people. We want to put forward a message of economic justice; I think that resonates with all Vermonters.”

Could be, could be. On the other hand, the party’s top politicos (*cough*PeterShumlin*cough*) have often slammed public-sector unions when trying to prove their managerial toughness. Maybe there’s a realization that the Party and the labor movement work best when they work together?

Casey cites the late Teddy Kennedy as a key influence; he was a press aide to the Senator in 2003-04. “His passion really made me want to pursue politics as a career.”

Casey grew up in Ireland, and there’s a touch of the Ould Sod in his voice. But he’s spent much of his life in Vermont, and is happy to be moving back. Politics in Vermont is quite a bit less rough-and-tumble than in Connecticut.

Peter Shumlin, Tough Guy

One of my least favorite things about our incumbent Governor* is his tendency to adopt Republican talking points, thus giving them a validation they don’t deserve. It’s sometimes called “kicking the hippies” — talking tough about Them Damn Liberals, in an attempt to self-position as a reasonable centrist.

*Same is true of many Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama and the Clintons, which is why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can seem so refreshing.

"If one more person says 'G'day, Mate' to me, I swear, they're gonna get such a punch."

“If one more person says ‘G’day, Mate’ to me, I swear I’m gonna ball ’em up.”

So here he comes, by way of Administration Secretary and Hatchet Man WIth An Adorable Accent Justin Johnson, doing a little light sparring with the public-sector union punching bag.

Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson issued an edict to agency and department heads Tuesday that all new hires within the executive branch must be approved by his office.

The move, according to a memo Johnson sent to agency and department heads, is the result of signals from the Vermont State Employees Association that it is not willing to work with the administration on finding $5 million in personnel savings called for in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s budget proposal.

Yeah, really. How dare the VSEA react exactly how you’d expect them to react?

100 times out of 100, a union is going to balk at reopening a signed contract and acceding to personnel cuts. That’s What They Do. It’s the first round in the dance: management takes hard line, union takes hard line, they get together and work things out.

Johnson knows this. But he very publicly reacted to VSEA’s predictable “Fight Back” petition with a summary judgment: “The petition indicated that the union will not deal with the administration on labor savings.”

The petition indicates no such thing. VSEA is simply staking out a strong opening position for the inevitable deal-making. The administration did the very same thing by incorporating cuts in pay and staffing into its budget.

So why is Johnson going straight from the opening salvo to the dreaded Declaration Of Impasse? Because it makes the administration look serious about cutting spending.

Most of the conversation around the Statehouse these days is about tax and fee increases. Shumlin’s budget called for a mix of new revenue and spending cuts. The last thing he wants is for the public debate to center on the former and ignore the latter. So he sent out his H.M.W.A.A.A.* to stomp on the other end of the seesaw.

*pronounced “HIM-wah.”

He could just as easily, and more productively, said something like “We understand the VSEA’s interest in protecting its members. We do not welcome making cuts, but we believe that Vermont’s budget situation requires it. We look forward to working with the union to find ways to save money while preserving a strong, vibrant state workforce.”

But that wouldn’t have accomplished the mission, which was to make the administration look tough.

This would be nothing more than a harmless bit of political theater, except that it provides tacit support for a Republican talking point: that public sector unions are the enemy of the taxpayer. Shumlin does the same thing when he insists that Vermonters are Taxed Enough Already, or when he tries to cut social service programs, or when he frames health care reform not as a social justice issue, but as an economic growth initiative.

In doing so, he cedes the rhetorical ground to the Republicans. It gets him a bit of short-term shine as a Tough Guy and an Unconventional Democrat, but it hurts the liberal cause in the long run.

Plus, it makes me grind my teeth, and my dentist says I should stop that.

Postscript. Just in case there’s any confusion, I made up the quote under Mr. Johnson’s picture.