Labor

Will Douglas listen to himself?

I often wonder, what makes a speech? Do people really believe and live what they are saying? Do they "talk the talk" and "walk the walk?" Hmm... I wonder. When Governor Douglas delivered his "Jobs Package II announcement" speech on December 1, 2003, he said:
"Vermonters know the value of a good job. We are known for our hard work, determination, and resilience. Every day, Vermonters rise before first light, and often in the icy chill of a winter morning, to put in an honest day's work." "A good job is not simply a paycheck: it is a means to care for your family, to put your children in the school of your choice, and to return something to the community where you live. Unfortunately, Vermont has suffered in recent years with cutbacks, layoffs, and plant closures."
I believe all Vermont workers are hard workers and do a good job because they care for their families, they want to put food on the table, and they want to invest in their communities. They didn't make the speech, but they walk the walk. Governor Douglas delivered this speech at "Vermont Tubbs" in Brandon, where he highlighted his priorities since being elected. In this speech, our Governor said:
"After I was elected Governor, I made it a priority to meet with top employers and small businesses across the state. I wanted to listen to their concerns, hear their solutions, and let them know that they have a partner in Montpelier. Their message to me was clear: help us grow, help us compete, and we will prosper."
Did our Governor forget to meet with himself? After all, he is one of the largest employers in our state. Do state employees have a partner in Jim Douglas and his administration? I recently received an email from a Vermont State employee saying:
"The Administration could avoid layoffs. That is truly the bottom line. VSEA is willing to compromise in many ways, but it has to be a two way street. It may be too late to even ask, but please, accept our offer, which is fair and reasonable, and also delivers the savings VSEA was asked to deliver. Or please counter offer with something equitable, without trying to lock us into something that goes through 2012. Most of us just want to feed our children today."
Our Governor also said in 2003, "When we work as a team for Vermont, we keep Vermonters working." So, lets hope our Governor meant those words he spoke in 2003 and he walks the walk as he works as a team with the VSEA to keep State employees out of the unemployement lines, especially when he has other options on the table. Yes Governor, we will continue to work hard for Vermont, to keep every Vermonter working. And yes indeed, most of us just want to feed our children today!

Working Vermonters Caucus Urges Douglas Administration to Accept VSEA Proposal

John Moran and I are co-chairs of the Working Vermonters Caucus. We sent this out on Monday, with no notice by the press:
The Working Vermont Caucus, comprised of over 20 Vermont legislators is urging the Douglas Administration to accept VSEA’s proposal to avoid 200-300 additional layoffs by implementing furloughs and unpaid holidays. The Union’s offer would save $7.459 million in general fund dollars, exceeding the amount needed to meet the $7.4 million of “workforce savings” booked in the August rescission plan. “In the past 3 years alone, the State has eliminated over 700 positions,” said Representative Susan Hatch Davis (P), Washington. “In this economy, sending more working Vermonters to the unemployment line doesn’t make sense. The Union has stepped to the plate with a plan that achieves substantial savings without having an adverse impact on public services.” “This being Labor Day, it’s great to see such a showing of solidarity,” said Representative John Moran (D), Wardsboro. “State employees are willing to sacrifice out of their own paychecks rather than seeing a coworker laid off. Our caucus hopes that the Governor does the right thing and accepts this offer.” The Administration will consider VSEA’s proposal over the weekend and respond to the Union early next week.

Restructure, Reorganize, Reform, and Resign of State Government

During this past legislative session we learned that many cuts in state government really didn't make sense, like cuts in federally funded positions and programs that would jeopardize the drawdown of federal dollars. It seems state employee cuts were random, based on numbers and done with a conscious lack of planning. Elected representatives know that these cuts will have a trickle down effect in our communities and the districts we represent. Cuts that were made in our state workforce will jeopardize programs that serve some of the most vulnerable citizens in our districts. In addition, these cuts will have a negative effect in our communities where the burdens will be placed, such as our community volunteer base, our non-profits, our faith community, our local families and children, as well as negative impacts on our local businesses. I recall hearing the words "government accountability and transparency" many times. As a retired state employee I have experienced the several attempts at "restructuring" or "reorging" (different word tactics used by changing leaders) in uncertain times or changes in department leadership. In my opinion, reorgs were mostly done without creating a more logical organization where the departments could perform their responsibilities more efficiently and effectively. It has been my expience that reorgs within the state bureaucracy often resulted in duplicate services, higher costs, duplicate planning, low morale, fewer efficiencies and more administrative overhead. Restructuring that appeared to be tied to strenghtening the executive branch. My experience has shown me that restructuring or reorganization is far from fulfilling its promise, fiscal or otherwise. Recently, I learned that the "Public Strategies Group" will be visiting Vermont to discuss a possible contractural arrangement to help the state identify "reform and redesign opportunites" with the goal of long term savings in the operations of state government. The joint fiscal office has blocked out a 45 minute time frame for discussion with members of the legislative leadership. Let's hope as a part of this process to help the state identify "reform and redesign opportunities" (lingo for restructure and reorganize) that the JFO, the Legislature and executive branch looks to the past and lessons learned from previous attempts at streamlining government and that they:
  • first identify the criteria and the problems that are trying to be fixed,
  • consider all stakeholders to be affected,
  • actively involve those directly affected (including front line employees),
  • know that reorganization is an on-going process,
  • prepare for the investment of resources (personnel and dollars) needed to accomplish "reform and redesign opportunities," as well as
  • establish a scheduled plan and evaluation criteria to achieve the "reform and redesign opportunites".

Healthcare and Civil Society

Once again I am on a quest for reason and support for our fellow citizens of this State. It seems that every time that hardworking folks gather together they are told by the powers that be that they are engaging in a class war. Well we have been in the middle of a vicious class war ever since 1970. Now that every bit of benefit has been wrung out of wages for working people the last bastion small though it be is now under assault--that of employer provided health care. Those who control capital cry that they cannot be completive unless they shed the cost of health care. All the while, since 1970 millions of dollars have flowed into the controllers of capital's pocket from the ever-increasing productivity of the workers.  Until now, the American worker is the most efficient of any worker in the world and works a longer workweek than those in any other industrial country. So what is really going on? Is this the last grab for total wage power? Have the workingmen and woman lost all sense of justice? We know that justice has never been a concern with the controllers of capital. No, none of the above. What is afoot is the big lie and working people have in part come to believe this. The big lie is that we cannot afford a civil society with rules and process that benefit all in a common bond. We in Vermont are so very fortunate to have Senator Sanders and the Progressive Party fighting this big lie.

It's farming season, or is it?

For most of May I was toiling in the fields trying to catch up (as I always do when the legislature ends and I can turn my attention to our farm business). Of course...that "catching up" was disrupted by a two-day "special session" that was started due to the Governor's veto of the state budget. So now...more catch up as two 12-14 hour farm days were lost.  Of course, it is hard to catch up as there are not many more hours in the day to make up those 24-28 hours, but I will try. As for the budget: well, at least I can be thankful I have a job. Sadly, nearly 100 of our valuable state employees are not so fortunate.  In January, the Governor proposed that he would balance the budget on the backs of 400 state workers who provide many valuable services to Vermonters (to the tune of about $17 million). The legislature then passed a budget (that I voted against) with the workers taking a $14 million dollar hit (or about 80% of the Governors proposal). Through much hard work by many (including now-independent Paul Poirier), some last minute language was inserted to create retirement and other incentives and to trim the work force by accelerated attrition rather than pink slips. Now we find ourselves in a sad state. While the language was inserted into the budget, and we were able to override the Governors veto, we find that the budget was not written with early implementation dates for the retirement incentives and other cost saving measures. So the Governor has cut the first 100 positions and there seems to be no way to stop it from happening. It is too bad that for all the hard work of progressive-minded legislators to keep these jobs, it was not on the minds of those who actually wrote the budget to make sure it would go into effect on time. It should already have been a priority to keep these jobs and the services they provide. Instead, it had to be cobbled together last minute and it was never double checked. I guess it was not such a priority of the leadership after all. Today I go back to the fields, harvest spinach and radishes, and get other odds and ends done on a rainy day. Those same 100 folks are probably wondering, why we did not use the rainy day funds to get the budget right? Now they are left to write their resumes, apply for jobs that are not there, and collect unemployment from the already dwindling fund. Great thinking Mr. Governor, way to stimulate the economy.

Senate washes hands of State Workers

Today's Times Argus describes the VT Senate's attempts to side with State workers, without actually trying to help them. Senate President Peter Shumlin has outlined a plan that would find $15m is labor savings without laying off workers.  But he then retreats: "This Legislature...understands clearly it is not the Legislature's role to negotiate contracts for state employees." What he doesn't seem to understand is that it is the Legislature's role to set the budget. And the administration can only layoff workers due to budget cuts or program cuts. And in case there is anyone who still thinks that the Douglas Administration is cutting jobs to solve a budget problem, rather than using a budget problem to cut jobs, the Times Argus reports:
Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville said reducing contract expenses will not save labor costs, and therefore isn't germane to the negotiations. The administration will look to reduce those costs, he said, but not as part of a plan to cut government-wide payroll costs.
The legislature must step up and find the revenue needed to protect our state work force.  Doug Hoffer and Anthony Pollina have blogged here about different options.
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