Legislature’s lawyers see issues with statewide teacher talks

The General Assembly’s legal experts have identified some issues with the governor’s proposal to negotiate teacher health benefits at the state level. The analysis also questions how much money the plan would save.

The Legislative Council looked at the plan at the request of Senate President Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, who has offered a counterproposal that Gov. Phil Scott has rejected.

“With respect to labor relations, there are legal questions regarding how the negotiations would occur between the Governor and the school employees unions,” the Legislative Council document states.

It also explains that teachers may not be able to strike based on health care if they are negotiating with the governor.

Current health care plans will be replaced at the end of this year because of changes under the Affordable Care Act.

Since the changeover will occur halfway through the fiscal year, on Jan. 1, there is the potential for only $13 million in savings for the first fiscal year, but $26 million in the full calendar year.

“There is significant question regarding how much savings will actually be realized and how a shortfall in projected savings would be addressed,” the memo states. It also says there are concerns about how to ensure school districts don’t simply apply savings to other spending priorities.

Some have raised the question of a statewide teacher strike over health care. But the Legislative Council says teachers would likely be found in breach of labor law in that case.

Under labor law that governs state employees, if there is an impasse, the parties go to mediation and fact finding and then binding arbitration, meaning they cannot deadlock. The health care proposals put forward incorporate these same procedures, implying that impasse must be resolved without resorting to either an imposition of a contract or a strike.

This makes it “reasonably likely that a strike in relation to statewide negotiations would be found unlawful,” the legal analysis states.

Other points the lawyers picked up on include:

  • Employees in private schools would be subject to the health care negotiations but may not be part of a union and would not have a voice at the table.
  • Both Senate and House amendments put forward on behalf of the governor’s proposal require a majority of teachers to vote for a contract to ratify it. But they don’t specify how that vote would work, and it is conceivable teachers in a school district could vote against it but be bound to it because teachers statewide endorsed the proposal.

Scott remains confident in his proposal, according to Rebecca Kelley, his spokesperson. “We worked with Leg Council on the language we put forward, and all the questions were answered in the legislation,” she said.

Several school districts have already completed contract negotiations, and the governor is concerned about putting off this decision much longer, Kelley said. “The governor is serious about achieving these savings for taxpayers while holding harmless teachers. We need serious action towards a resolution for all Vermonters,” she said.

Each day of delay risks taxpayer dollars, she said, referring to another contract that has finished bargaining. Nine local school districts have now finished.

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Tiffany Danitz Pache

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  • Jamie Carter

    “The General Assembly’s legal experts have
    identified some issues with the governor’s proposal to negotiate teacher
    health benefits at the state level.”

    The main issue being the VNEA who made it clear to Senator Ashe who was in charge.

  • Steve Baker

    Bring the Bill forward and the Governor can VETO it. Then what will the “Legal Experts” say? Most of us know who the “Legal Experts” represent.