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Weekly News From VSEA!
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Week In Action Newsletter
July 24, 2020
VSEA leaders are monitoring the COVID-19 situation and have not ruled out conducting this meeting by Zoom, if necessitated by the pandemic.
The Week In Action PDF download is not available this week. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
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VSEA' s 76th Annual Meeting Being Held At Jay Peak

VSEA members will soon be receiving materials to register to attend the union's 76th Annual Meeting, which is being held this year at the Jay Peak Resort on Saturday, September 12.

VSEA leaders are taking the approach that the COVID-19 pandemic will still be occurring, so all federal and state coronavirus guidelines will be observed at Annual Meeting, meaning masks, social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing, etc. Members' tables will also be spread out to the recommended distance. 

Another important Annual Meeting this year, as there's plenty  to get done, including:
  • Vote on operating budget;
  • Vote on bylaw change proposals;
  • Vet Legislative Committee political endorsements;
  • Possible dues discussion;
  • Strategize around current campaign to secure year-two contract funding;
  • Strategize around campaign to protect state employees during the COVID pandemic; and
  • Strategize about ways to continue to grow VSEA's membership into 2021. 
VSEA Operations Director Amy Kinsell tells WIA that Annual Meeting registration materials are being sent soon to all members. 
Want to receive VSEA HQ Email Alerts and Updates? Subscribe to VSEA's Email Lists.

Important COVID Survey Emailed To Corrections Members! 

Hearing reports of garbage bags serving as personal protection equipment (PPE) for some VSEA Corrections members in facilities across Vermont, VSEA emailed an important COVID survey to its Corrections members yesterday, trying to better determine things like: 

  • ​Where proper PPE is in use, versus where it's not;
  • What kinds of proper PPE are being used, if any;
  • Are you being tested? If so, how? and
  • Are there issues around staffing at your facility, due to COVID?

DEADLINE! This important COVID survey must be completed by Monday, July 27!!  VSEA will immediately be sharing members' input about PPE and other COVID-related issues with the State and lawmakers.

VSEA Members Sound Alarm About Past Reports Of Elevated Levels Of Uranium In Drinking Water At Middlesex Temporary Mental Health Facility 

Concerned VSEA members recently alerted their union to reports of elevated uranium levels in the drinking water at the temporary mental health facility in Middlesex. The facility's most recent occupants were Woodside residents and employees, and it was them who sounded the alarm, based on reports they had heard. Testing was done in both April and May, and it revealed results were below the state allowable limit for uranium, but that has not always been the case. This is of great concern because, before Woodside occupied the space, employees and residents of the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence were there for years and...

From a July 15 VTDigger story, titled, Union Slams State Over Lack of Notification of Tainted Water at Psychiatric Facility

The letter stated that bottled water was “always available” to the staff and residents at the facility, however, signs indicating “no drinking or cooking” were not posted on the fixtures used for drinking or cooking.

“While the main cooking took place off site, MTCR staff and residents did cook small meals and snacks at the facility,” the letter stated. “This means some staff or residents may have been exposed to gross alpha radiation and uranium.”

The letter also addresses the potential health risk associated with the elements detected in the water.

“If the tests were elevated before it was made apparent to the employees at Woodside, then our employees who worked there for the Department of Mental Health really were treated very poorly by two administrations," said VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard.

Important July 31 VSEA Council Meeting Being Conducted,
Via Zoom

Today, VSEA First Vice President Aimee Towne sent Council members their packet of materials for next week's important Council meeting, where votes up or down on next year's operating budget and bylaw change proposals will occur, and there will be a discussion about VSEA's political endorsements. Council members will also be talking about the State's COVID response, as well as next steps to attain year-two contract funding.

VSEA Council Meeting
8:30 a.m.
Via Zoom

Save The Date! NEK/St. Johnsbury Chapter Annual Meeting Is August 19, Via Zoom

VSEA NEK/St. Johnsbury Chapter Clerk Monique Prive  asked WIA to let Chapter members know that their Chapter Annual Meeting is scheduled for:

Wednesday, August 19
5:00 p.m. 
Via Zoom


Log-in information and additional meeting details will be emailed, prior to August 19.

Save The Date! Barre Chapter Annual Meeting Is August 26, Via Zoom

Pictured here are members of VSEA's Barre Chapter, accepting their "Chapter of the Year" award at least year's VSEA Annual Meeting. 

VSEA Barre Chapter President Sue LaFleche asked WIA to let Barre Chapter members know that their Chapter Annual Meeting is scheduled for:

Wednesday, August 26
5:30 p.m. 
Via Zoom


Log-in information and additional meeting details will be emailed, prior to August 26.

VSEA Mourns Goldie Watson's Passing

While WIA was off last week, the entire VSEA family mourned the loss of longtime leader and activist MaryJoanne "Goldie" Watson, who passed away on July 9.

Many VSEA members and retirees will always remember Goldie for her sparkly hats, her tireless advocacy for state employees and retirees, her knowledge of the contract and statutes and her ongoing efforts to educate young VSEA members about the importance of a union in their life. 

Goldie's Obituary In Times Argus  

Goldie worked most of her career at the old Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury, where she served her union in just about every capacity there is, including Board member, Council member, Chapter President and many more but,, most important, Member/Retiree Organizer.

View Goldie's "I'm Sticking With The Union" Video Clip

To quote VSEA First VP Aimee Towne on the Council page, "Rest in Power, Goldie."

Corrections Finally Saying Goodbye To Centurian. Backfilling With Lowest-Bid Contractor. Why Not State Employees?

VSEA recently welcomed news that the Department of Corrections has severed its ties with private, for-profit health care provider Centurion. In many VSEA Corrections Unit members' opinion, it's a move that had to happen--and should have years ago.

Centurion was flagged in a 2013 audit for overcharging for services, and the company was called out in 2018 for not treating some inmates with hepatitis and for not complying with a new state law that expands access to medication-assisted addiction treatment in prison. But also part of the discussion in 2018 was Sen. Dick Sears' investigation into what happened to $2.2 million of the money Vermont taxpayers gave to Centurion to fulfill its contractual duties. Now, in 2020, we learn that an inmate has died while in Centurion's care.

Every time Centurion has been scrutinized, VSEA leaders and members have campaigned to return Corrections health care services to state employees, which is how it was for decades until the early 1990s, but, once again, as we read recently in VTDigger, the State is opting to place its trust in yet another private, for-profit prison health care provider, which DOC officials say was the low bidder.

Note: On several occasions, lawmakers have expressed an interest in studying the feasibility of returning Corrections health care services to state employees, but, to date, no formal study has been ordered.

Quote Of
The Week!

 

"Our position was made essential before [the U.S. Congress] went home. So if we’re essential, why is there a furlough? They declared us essential so that we could keep working, there’s just a lot they’ll have to account for."


St. Albans resident Danielle Spooner, who is president of the union representing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) union members in Vermont, as quoted in a VTDigger story. Spooner was commenting at a July 22 press conference, called by Vt's federal congressional delegation, to denounce a plan to furlough Vermont's 1,100 USCIS members.
Week In Action Corrections:
A couple of corrections from recent WIAs:
  • ​VSEA's VSCSF Unit voted to extend their contract through June 30, 2021, not 2020; and
     
  • The Chair of the OSA Bargaining Team is Justin Jiron, not Jirin.
Talking Points:

Study Finds Cutting Budgets During Economic Crisis Exacerbates Income Inequality 

Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy recently shared its research with the press and public on how state budget cuts during an economic crisis worsens income equality.

From a press release on the Center's research: 

Franko examined state-level income and spending data covering 1987 to 2012. There were three recessions during that period lasting at least eight months each. The National Association of State Budget Officers does a yearly survey of state fiscal health, including on spending and tax changes made after a state’s budget was passed. Franko used data from the survey to capture how states adjusted their budgets following economic shocks, like recessions. He explains that he wanted to focus on distinct budget and policy shifts in response to fiscal crises — rather than on existing policies that went to work when the economy took a dive.

Franko also used state income inequality data that U.S. Census Bureau economist John Voorheis compiled. The data measures income inequality as a ratio of the earnings of the top 20% of wage earners in a state to the earnings of the bottom 20%. The average ratio across states during the study period was five — meaning, on average, the top fifth of earners brought home five times more than the lowest fifth. Put another way, someone in the top fifth of earners in an average state would likely earn about $100,000 a year, while someone in the lowest fifth would likely earn about $20,000 a year.

The upshot is that when states cut budgets during downturns, their inequality ratio rises. For example, Franko demonstrates that a state with an inequality ratio of about five that suddenly cut its budget by 4% would expect to see its ratio bump 6.2%. That average state could see its top earners go from making five times its lowest earners, to 5.3 times, post-budget cuts.

Franko also finds that budget cuts are associated with the lowest fifth of earners having less income share. Think of the income a state’s residents earn as an apple pie. After budget cuts, there’s a smaller sliver that the lowest fifth of wage earners contributes to the whole pie. That’s income share.

What’s more, unexpected budget cuts are associated with persistent inequality across the years studied. States that favored revenue increases, however, decreased the income share for the top fifth of earners, in part because states trying to increase revenue may pursue policies like higher taxes for high earners.

“When you put the two together — cutting back on revenue and on spending at the same time — this is where you see a large increase in inequality,” Franko says.

Nurses Rally In D.C. For Proper PPE To Combat COVID

Powerful image from this week's PPE demonstration by nurses on Capitol Hill

ABC News reports on a demonstration this week on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. by nurses who are angry and fed up with not having enough proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe on the frontlines of the COVID fight. The nurses allege that a lack of proper PPE has caused thew deaths of more than 150 nurses nationwide. 

From the ABC story: 

164 pairs of nurses' shoes were placed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to represent nurses who have died in the fight against COVID-19.

Two months ago, there were 88 pairs of shoes placed in front of the White House to represent the number of nurses who had died in the fight against the novel coronavirus, said National Nurses United union's Stephanie Simms.

"There are no words that can fully express the anger and the sadness I feel this morning," said Simms.


Note: Proper PPE must be a priority for nurses and every other employee asked, or mandated, to work on the frontlines of the fight against COVID, both here in Vermont and across the nation.

New Study Highlights Ways Employers Try To Thwart Union Organizing

Workday Minnesota reports this week on a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that provides "an inside account of how employers routinely threaten, intimidate, and harass workers to stop them from exercising their right to collective bargaining."

The report details common employer tactics that often turn overwhelming support for unions at the outset of a campaign into a “no” vote just weeks later, including:

  • Forcing employees to attend daily anti-union meetings where pro-union workers have no right to present alternative views and can be fired on the spot if they ask a question;
     
  • Plastering the workplace with anti-union posters, banners, and looping video ads—and denying pro-union employees access to any of these media; and
     
  • Instructing managers to tell employees that there’s a good chance they will lose their jobs if they vote to unionize.
“Protecting the right to collective bargaining is key to solving the crisis of economic inequality. When workers have the ability to bargain collectively with their employers, the division of corporate profits is more equally shared between employees, management, and shareholders. When workers can’t exercise this right—as is often the case—inequality grows and wages stagnate,” said Gordon Lafer, professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center and co-author of the report.
This Week:
VSEA' s 76th Annual Meeting Being Held At Jay Peak

Important COVID Survey Emailed To Corrections Members!

VSEA Members Sound Alarm About Past Reports Of Elevated Levels Of Uranium In Drinking Water At Middlesex Temporary Mental Health Facility

Important July 31 VSEA Council Meeting Being Conducted, Via Zoom

Save The Date! NEK/St. Johnsbury Chapter Annual Meeting Is August 19, Via Zoom

Save The Date! Barre Chapter Annual Meeting Is August 26, Via Zoom

VSEA Mourns Goldie Watson's Passing

Corrections Finally Saying Goodbye To Centurian. Backfilling With Lowest-Bid Contractor. Why Not State Employees?

Quote of the Week!

Week In Action Corrections
Talking Points:
Study Finds Cutting Budgets During Economic Crisis Exacerbates Income Inequality

Nurses Rally In D.C. For Proper PPE To Combat COVID

New Study Highlights Ways Employers Try To Thwart Union Organizing
Calendar:
July 31
VSEA Council Meeting
via Zoom
Full VSEA Calendar
Important Reminders:
National AFL-CIO Creates Website For "Workers Impacted by COVID-19"

Employees Who Fail To Comply With Mask Directive Could Be Disciplined

VSEA Has Partnered With Travelers: See How Much You Can Save On Auto and Home Insurance

Delta Dental Supplemental Plan’s July Premium Holiday Reminder

New "Purchasing Power" Benefit Offered To VSEA Members

AFLAC Insurance Enrollment: Sign Up Through VSEA!

VSEA Advantage Discount Program

Told You're Being Investigated?
Watch This Video!


VSEA Retirement Security Fact Sheet

Getting Ready To Retire? Retired Already? Join The VSEA Retired Members’ Chapter!
Thank you for reading Week In Action!
National AFL-CIO Creates Website For "Workers Impacted by COVID-19"

A reminder that the national AFL-CIO has created a website to help workers impacted by COVID-19 find the resources they might need, such as:

  • Resources and benefits to help replace lost wages;
     
  • Eligibility requirements for emergency paid leave;
     
  • Housing and food assistance programs; and 
     
  • Health insurance and public health services and guidance.
Reminder: Employees Who Fail To 
Comply With Mask Directive Could Be Disciplined
During these very uncertain times, VSEA is reminding state employees not to ignore a directive from your supervisor to wear a protective mask while at work. Remember, if you defy your supervisor's mask directive, you may face allegations of insubordination, which could result in management taking disciplinary action against you.    

VSEA is strongly advising all employees to comply with the mask directive, to protect your health and the health of your co-workers.
VSEA Has Partnered With Travelers: See How Much You Can Save On Auto and Home Insurance
As a member of the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA), you could save on auto, home, and renters insurance with Travelers. Here are just a few advantages.
Delta Dental Supplemental Plan’s July Premium Holiday Reminder

Several VSEA members recently contacted headquarters to ask why there was no deduction in their paycheck for the Delta Dental Supplemental Plan. Well, there’s a reason.

Recently, VSEA sent an email to members, reminding that Delta Dental’s Supplemental Plan Division recently announced that there would be a premium holiday in July for VSEA members who participate in the optional benefit plan.

This means VSEA members will not see a deduction in July for your Delta Dental Supplemental Plan payment. Delta Dental is resuming the deduction in August.

The Supplemental Plan is also announcing that, for the plan year beginning July 20, the maximum allowance is being increased from $1000 to $1250.

New "Purchasing Power" Benefit Offered To VSEA Members
In times when paying with cash or credit is challenging, Purchasing Power is here for you with a program you can trust. Get what you need now, and pay overtime – right from your paycheck.​

View the Program PDF

Depending on your settings, the link above will open a PDF in your web browser or download the PDF to your computer
or device.
AFLAC Insurance Enrollment:
Sign Up Through VSEA!
WIA was asked by VSEA Benefits Administrator, Joanne Woodcock, to include the following in this week's newsletter:
Dear Friends,

During these uncertain times, it has never been more important than now to protect your income.

Did you know that as a VSEA member, you are eligible for guaranteed issued disability with AFLAC through the convenience of payroll deduction! The State does not offer short term disability insurance other than accrued sick time.

If you would like to discuss this valuable VSEA member benefit in more detail, please call me or make an appointment using this link.

I will call you on the day and time you select. Please be in front of a computer at the time of your appointment.

There are many advantages to VSEA membership. Please check them out at www.vsea.org.

Thank you and I hope you stay well and safe.

Best regards,
Joanne
Joanne Woodcock
VSEA Benefits Administrator
888-510-4467
Joanne@vseainsurance.com
VSEA Advantage Discount Program
Did you know the average VSEA member can save hundreds of dollars a year by taking advantage of some of the Member-Only benefits offered through your union?

Learn more about the VSEA Advantage Discount Program
Told You're Being Investigated? Watch This Video!
Please take a few minutes on a break to watch the video, and know that the information being relayed could very well save your job someday. Remember, as a VSEA member, you are entitled to no-cost representation in investigatory meetings that may lead to discipline. Non-members, however, must now pay a rate of $250 to $350 per-hour for the same level of representation!

More: Know Your Union Rights
VSEA Retirement Security Fact Sheet
Did you know? Defined benefit plans are safer and more reliable for Vermont's retirees & are cheaper for taxpayers than risky, Wall St 401(k)-style plans. Learn more about the differences between defined benefit pension plans and defined contribution pension plans (a.k.a. 401K) here.
Getting Ready To Retire? Retired Already? Join The VSEA Retired Members’ Chapter!

Long-time VSEA activist and leader Terry Lefebvre is asking VSEA members getting ready to retire to join the VSEA Retirees’ Chapter to continue to be an active and engaged union member, even in retirement. Lefebvre also appeals to VSEA members to talk up the co-workers they know who might be preparing to retire. If you already belong to the Retired Members’ Chapter, a big thanks to you.

Learn More Here About The VSEA Retired Members’ Chapter
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Thank you for reading
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