Below are my responses to the VSEA Political Endorsement Questionnaire.
Members of the VSEA believe too many Vermonters have to struggle to meet their basic needs. We have suffered from several years of cuts to public services and to the state workforce that is comprised of the experts who deliver essential services to Vermonters on a daily basis. We believe that increased public investments are essential for ensuring our basic human rights to healthcare, housing, food, education, jobs and a dignified standard of living. VSEA supports a budget that addresses needs, advances equity and dignity, and enables people’s participation. We support increasing state revenues to make this budget a reality.
1. Would you support creating and funding a budget that allows for a robust state workforce that can provide high quality state services to Vermonters?
2. Would you be willing to support a 1% income tax surcharge on the wealthiest (top 2%) of Vermonters?
Yes, provided that proceeds from such a tax were applied to deal with the effects of income inequality on low-income and middle-class Vermonters.
The VSEA Board of Trustees has approved a position statement stating that the VSEA will advocate for the current state employee healthcare plan to be used as the base plan for Green Mountain Care. VSEA will monitor health care reform and continue to advocate for maintaining state employee benefits and bargaining rights to ensure no degradation of state employees’ access to services and no increased costs for state employees.
3. Will you support the self insured state employee plan to be used as the base plan for Green Mountain Care?
Yes – it is a great plan and as I understand it, the actual costs of the state employee plan is less than similar plans available on the exchange.
Privatizing State Services
VSEA believes that contracting out services not only results in less transparency and accountability, but often sends Vermont dollars out of state. Services once provided by state workers are increasingly being performed by contractors at higher costs with inferior results. VSEA will propose legislation to significantly strengthen the current privatization statute by protecting workers from economic losses. Private contractors would be required to guarantee that the savings generated by privatizing state functions is from innovation and better management, not by gutting workers’ pay and benefits. Employees of the private contractor would have to be paid at the same level with the same benefits as state employees currently performing the functions being privatized. VSEA will work to identify contracts that should be eliminated and support performance-based contracting. VSEA will also work to mandate that companies who Vermont contracts with are subject to the public records act.
4. Will you hold government accountable by supporting legislation requiring greater scrutiny on private and personal service contracts to ensure that contractors do not produce savings on the backs of their workers?
Yes, and I believe that IT-related contracts are a great place to start.
5. Will you oppose any and all efforts to further privatize State services?
Yes, insofar as I believe we should keep State jobs in Vermont at a competitive quality of service and cost.
State employees believe Vermonters have a right to ethical, transparent and efficient state government. They are the experts on the delivery of state services and are often uniquely positioned to provide lawmakers and the public with vital information about state government. VSEA believes that state employees who expose injustice and wrongdoing should be able to do so without fear of retaliation. An overwhelming 600 responses came in over one weekend to a survey that VSEA sent out to its members naming fear of retaliation as a significant barrier to stepping forward to blow the whistle. Accordingly, VSEA will support legislation providing greater protections for whistleblowers.
6. Will you support legislation providing greater protections to state employees who come forward to report waste, fraud, and abuse in State Government?
Yes, as has been shown over and over, whistleblowers do a service to citizens and ultimately the organizations on which they report, though they are often the targets of discrimination and retaliation.
As state employees who pay taxes, we seek government accountability. As public servants we are held individually accountable for our actions. VSEA believes that all departments should also be held accountable for their actions. VSEA will advocate for the State to respect state worker’s right to due process. VSEA supports timely resolutions of Department of Human Resources investigations. In addition, VSEA will advocate for greater legislative scrutiny of the management practices of the Department of Human Resources.
7. Would you support an investigation into the practices of the Department of Human Resources in order to provide greater legislative scrutiny on this department’s conduct?
Yes, though I admit that I am unaware of and uneducated about specific issues related to due process of HR issues.
8. Will you stand with VSEA members to defend state workers against retaliation?
Yes, especially when coupled with whistleblower protection, above.
VSEA will propose legislation to be able to bargain with the state for grievances to be decided by a neutral arbitrator instead of having the Labor Board decide grievances. This would make the grievance process less legalistic and would provide for a less intimidating grievance process. Currently, state employees, the state troopers and UVM employees are the only unions in the state (and perhaps the nation) that are not allowed to bargain for grievance arbitration. VSEA believes that state employees have a right to due process and should not have to fear filing a grievance as many now do. With arbitration, state employees will know that their grievance will not be part of public record and will be heard by someone who is a neutral third party.
9. Would you support enabling legislation that would allow state employees to bargain with the State for grievance arbitration?
Yes, though I would like to learn more about why a grievance shouldn’t be public record. Provided that there are anti-retaliation protections in place, I would expect that having information about the grievance in the public domain would be valuable.
Reducing Reliance on Temporary Workers
Nearly 20% of the State’s workforce consists of temporary workers. VSEA members report that they have worked side by side with the same temporary workers over many years. During this time, temporary workers do not receive benefits enjoyed by permanent classified employees such as healthcare, retirement, and sick leave.
10. Would you support legislation that would reduce the State’s reliance on temporary workers by converting these long serving temporary positions into permanent classified positions?
11. Would you support legislation extending a certain amount of earned sick time (1 hour for every forty hours worked capped at five days) to the State’s temporary workers?
Yes, temporary workers should receive equivalent or similar benefits for their (admittedly shorter) service as permanent employees.
Earned Sick Leave for All Vermont Workers
Some Vermont employers do not offer sick leave to their employees. This creates a number of public health concerns as people go to work sick and make others sick. (Especially those workers who work in the customer service industry and interact with the general public as they do their jobs.)
12. Would you support legislation extending earned sick leave for all Vermont workers. (1 hour for every forty hours worked capped at 5 days)
Yes, I fully support earned sick leave for everyone.
VSEA members believe that Vermont has an interest in retirement security for state employees and all Vermonters. VSEA will seek to maintain our defined benefit pension plans, keep these plans adequately funded, and remove retirement penalties for 911 dispatchers and other workers who experience similar trauma/stress on the job.
13. Would you support maintaining the State’s defined benefit pension plan for state workers?
14. Would you support adequately funding the defined benefit pension plan?
15. 911 dispatchers often experience trauma on the job that studies have shown can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Currently, Vermont places a retirement penalty on dispatchers who leave before having 30 years of State service. Would you support removing these retirement penalties for the 911 dispatchers and other state workers that experience stressful and often traumatic experiences on the job?
I support making their retirement benefits equivalent or similar to Vermont State Police troopers and other law enforcement offices.