Politics

Hundreds of teachers, allies protest Scott’s health care plan

Teachers rally
Teachers rally at the Statehouse on Wednesday to protest the governor’s proposed changes to collective bargaining. Photo by Michael Dougherty/VTDigger
A few hundred Vermont teachers protested in front of the Statehouse on Wednesday against Gov. Phil Scott’s proposal to negotiate their health care contracts at the state level.

They called Scott’s plan, which he has said could lower property taxes by $26 million, a political ploy to violate their collective bargaining rights. They accused Scott of union busting.

The Vermont-NEA teachers union organized the protest. The powerful AFL-CIO, a national group that serves as a resource for labor unions, stood by the teachers’ side. So did the Vermont Democratic Party; Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat; and a handful of Democratic lawmakers.

“Clearly, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the governor and (Vermont School Boards Association) sought has nothing to do with savings on property taxes,” said Martha Allen, the president of the Vermont-NEA.

The school board association has allied with Scott on the idea of a statewide teacher health care contract. The group also pushed back on a proposal Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe introduced Friday that he said would save money while maintaining local collective bargaining.

“The governor and his allies see this issue as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take power away from working people in this state, and in particular, to take power away from working women,” Allen said.

Jill Charbonneau, from the AFL-CIO, pointed to Scott’s rejection of Ashe’s proposal, which would have reduced property tax rates by 3 cents.

“It turns out reducing property tax rates is just rhetoric for the campaign trail but did not pass muster with Scott Walker’s style of union busting …,” Charbonneau said, referring to the Wisconsin governor who passed sweeping laws limiting the bargaining power of that state’s labor unions.

“The Vermont labor community will not go silently in the night,” Charbonneau added.

Erin Carter, a math teacher at Spaulding High School in Barre, said she works with kindergarten teachers to negotiate contracts with the local school board.

“I do not push the school board around,” Carter said. “Coming to the table well-prepared is not a bullying tactic.”

Carter said she also does not push the school board around when she negotiates on behalf of para-educators — support staff who often work with students with special needs. She said they make $11.10 an hour.

Conor Casey, the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, held up a sign linking Scott to the Wisconsin governor.

Casey’s sign said: “Governor Scott … Walker?”

Allen also compared Scott to Walker on Tuesday.

At a news conference earlier Wednesday, Scott responded to those comments. Scott said he understands the concerns of teachers but disagrees with the comparison.

“I think it’s a stretch,” Scott said. “It’s more rhetoric. It maybe sounds good to members and all that, but I hardly think I can be compared to Scott Walker.”

Scott said he would be willing to put the statewide bargaining into place for two years to “re-base” the cost of teacher health care and then go back to the same local bargaining that has been in place in the past.

Legislative leaders nonetheless declared an impasse Wednesday afternoon in negotiations with Scott.

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  • Glenn Thompson

    And there you have it! Just another reason in a long list of reasons why public unions need to be abolished.

  • Tom Sullivan

    Why is the governor seeking parity in healthcare for teachers?

    “CNSU, Teachers, Hit Impasse in Negotiations”

    “Burke Town School teacher Barb Chapman said she believed the union’s health care proposal was fair and would save the district money. The proposal calls for employees to pay 2 percent and the district would pay 98 percent”

    Two percent??? Oy Vey.

    http://www.caledonianrecord.com/news/cnsu-teachers-hit-impasse-in-negotiations/article_85b96237-fcc1-5ed0-9ec7-e7984f3a97c7.html

    • Steve Baker

      While the rest of us in the dreaded private sector are lucky to have an 80/20 split and we pay all of our out-of-pocket expenses.

    • victor ialeggio

      The CNSU school board should not have unilaterally issued a prepared press release on the state of negotiations, according to mutually-agreed upon ground rules between the Board and the union.

      The 98/2% split on healthcare cited is presumably an extreme bargaining position offered to counter the equally extreme position the Board seems to have adopted.

      According to union fact sheet which followed the Board’s press release:

      1. The Board did not offer an 80/20% healthcare contribution, but rather a dollar amount of $419 towards the cost of single coverage. That results in a ~60/40% split. Expiring contract for healthcare has been for 85/15%.

      2. The board did not propose a salary increase of 2.3% in the next contract year but rather 2.3% total new dollars.

      Let’s just stay tuned and see how it plays out.

  • Teddy Hopkins

    Perhaps I am wrong but I hope our legislators realize the Wednesday protest was a scheduled day of school and how can ‘hundreds of Vermont teachers” assumed being paid attend this protest? Add to this mix are probably hundreds of paid substitutes to fill the void for a day or portion thereof.
    The news media should perform a public records request to review the avenue these educators had to take to have a day off. Did their non union supervisor rubber stamp all leave requests? Was this an- inservice day so desperately needed?
    Although I respect individuals right to speak and rally this action reveals the true lack of concern teachers actually have when confronted with the choice of what is more important, their contracts or their devotion for educating.

    • Mishell Dail

      The protest was at the end of the school day, after they educated their students. Many were unable to attend because of time that it would have taken to get to Montpelier at the end of the school day. Focus on the facts instead of making judgements.

      • Felicia Scott

        They didn’t “educate” any students. They added a few hours to their paychecks.

    • Noel Bumpas

      Wake up, Teddy. The public action took place after school hours.

      • Teddy Hopkins

        Perhaps the protest was at the end of the day but where in this Digger article does it state the time of the protest?

    • Christopher Daniels

      Check your facts, please.

  • Too bad the school choice supporters didn’t show up and demonstrate.

    • Matt Young

      We were all working so we can pay our taxes so the teachers can have a day off to protest.

  • Steve Baker

    It’s interesting, the first time in 20 years the teachers stamp their feet and didn’t get what they want,,,, they stage a protest.
    Things teachers will never protest
    – A 2080 hour work year
    – School choice
    – Merit pay
    – No tenure
    – Reduction in forces
    – transparency of their contract
    – paying their fair share for healthcare
    – paying for their continuing education
    – ethics reform

    And, by the way wasn’t yesterday a work day for teachers ? It shouldn’t go unnoticed that whenever there is a liberal based protest at the Statehouse it can be done during work hours and it’s always well attended….

    • Christopher Daniels

      So we should all meekly accept terms dictated by others, and if we exercise our right of freedom of association, we’re all acting like babies?

      • Steve Baker

        Thats what happens in the Dreaded Private sector….Here’s the Health Plan, Take it or leave it.
        But to characterize this as a dictatorship is a little off the mark. Teachers should pay what the average Vermont pays for their Healthcare!

        • Christopher Daniels

          No, that’s what happens in non-unionized work places. The ability to negotiate directly relates to the position in the company. There is no negotiation for entry level workers, but that begins to change as an employee goes up the ladder.

          • Steve Baker

            No, you don’t negotiate your Healthcare benefits!

    • Neil Gerdes

      what time was it? look at the shadows. likely it was after school.

  • Bobby Taylor

    Why are people so happy to support this race to the bottom bully tactic of trying to remove people’s bargaining rights right in the middle of contract negotiations? 100% employer paid health care used to be the norm for most professionals. Just because a few segments of the workforce have managed to keep something close to that does not mean they should be vilified.

    Maybe we should be asking the question as to why most other people have had their benefits reduced over and over as corporations and those at the top continue to make record profits?

    Many groups of teachers and support staff have actually taken lower wages over the years in order to keep decent health care.

    Police and Fire Fighters have nearly the same benefits as teachers, would everyone be on board to strip their negotiation rights too?

    I think everyone can agree that the state needs to look for ways to save money, and those conversations need to be had. However, opportunistic money grabs are not the adult way to go about things like this. These strong arm tactics don’t raise the level of debate, rather they drag everyone into the mud.

    Why not do what NH does every so often and require every department in the state to build new budgets from the ground up? Why not empanel a commission to look for efficiencies across all state agencies?

    • Christopher Daniels

      They are happy because they’ve been told by their radio and TV
      personalities for the last three decades that teachers and their unions
      are greedy and feed at the trough of the hard-working average Joe. You can see it in their language, it’s almost verbatim from what you get on Fox News. But why teachers and not firefighters and police officers? Because teacher unions support the Democratic Party and the other two unions sometimes or more consistently support the Republican Party.

    • Neil Johnson

      Teachers have a plan that isn’t even available to the public to purchase. If teachers were given the choice of money spent on benefit or the benefit, they would take the cash. But because it’s “free” money they don’t investigate and say yes. Make your plan available to the public for them to purchase, I dare you. WE CAN”T EVEN BUY IT! If teachers were given the money and then had to pay for the plan they would receive, they would quickly realize it’s a stupid amount of money to pay for what you are getting. I’d like to see the teachers write that check for $2,000 every month!

      It’s not a race to the bottom, it’s called fairness. The world is not as it was 10, 20, 50 years ago. People making promises they can’t keep has happened in corporations and is still going on in government, only because they are using someone else’s money. We need to pay people, cash on the barrel head, do what you want with it.

      When you look at the pay and benefits of the people complaining you’ll find they have by far a better compensation plan than everybody else in the state. Yet they complain with their mouthful, it’s unbecoming and very rude to those outside the coveted, protected barrier that separates those from what is going on in the real world, across the entire planet.

  • Pam Ladds

    I am not a teacher, and like every other property owner i complain every time rates go up. Nor am I parent! Having said that children are all of our futures. In the posts prior to mine I see a lot of taking this article and proposal at face value and not an explanation of this deal is so problematic. I would probably have been as confused as everyone else if I had not heard a really powerful explanation from a citizen at our local legislative breakfast this week. (link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBIbNGnhDCc one comment at 42 minutes from a republican commenter and 50 minutes for a detailed explanation) Equity is not equity if salaries are not equal! The teachers in Orleans and Essex counties are paid way less than the teachers in more “well-heeled” districts. They will be paying a much higher percentage. Listen to the explanation please. It rings true. Equalization does not come close educationally and nor does it terms of fairness to staff and kids. As for the comment about time-off for demonstrating this rally was a 4:30 pm. School is out! If there had been more notice for this rally I would have joined them. Please look at the facts before judging here. Interestingly many of the Republican representatives are not supporting this legislation.

    • Chet Greenwood

      Pam,
      I was there and I have a little different take on the issue. I will agree that teachers pay and benefits state-wide are inequitable with the NEK being at the bottom. I also agree that teachers paying 20% of healthcare on a $30k salary is inequitable compared to a teacher paying 20% on a $70k salary.
      That is the issue so how is that going to change when we have every school district in the state negotiating different contracts? Seems to me that this is how we arrived at the inequitable situation in the first place. At least with a state contract the teachers might be able to negotiate a more equitable solution on a geographic basis.
      Most school boards will admit they are at a disadvantage negotiating with VTNEA contract attorneys – sort of like the JV team taking on the varsity! Who usually wins?
      The districts that feel “richer” will always negotiate higher benefits/salaries than the more “cost sensitive” districts. Statewide contract negotiations will level the playing field.

      • Pam Ladds

        Chet, there is no reason not to level the playing field and let the school district that you and I live in come out of the swamp and into the same sun as other districts. I assume you would like your grand children to receive an education that compares with kids in other districts. And for the staff to receive parity.

        • Steve Baker

          Either district, as you say the swamp or the sun have been grossly overfunded for years. As stated many times,
          – Vermont is in the TOP of per Pupil funding in the entire Country.
          – Enrollment steadily declines
          – Spending steadily increases
          I’d hardly refer to any of this as a swamp.

        • Jamie Carter

          Level the playing field? The cost of living isn’t the same? Why would pay be the same and if it wasn’t why would that matter? A $35,000/ year teacher isn’t necessarily a worse teacher then one earning $50,000/year. Assuming that the education in the NEK is not as good as in Burlington simply because teachers get paid less is just foolish.

  • Joe Benning

    Re: “They called Scott’s plan … a political ploy to violate their collective bargaining
    rights. They accused Scott of union busting.”

    This would be the very same union that not three years ago was advocating for a statewide health insurance plan, which if passed would have also removed this very same component (health care) from local contract negotiations. Interesting how things change when a Republican governor proposes it.

    • Dave Bellini

      So, why did 99% of republicans vote for the budget if it is so unacceptable?
      Why didn’t you folks denounce it when there was a vote? 147-1 and 30-0.
      Were you sleeping?

      • Joe Benning

        No. I voted for the budget (for the first time in my seven years in this building) because it didn’t raise taxes and I viewed it as sustainable. I also anticipated that the Governor’s projected education funding proposal would pass and thereby support my original assumption. What, pray tell, does that have to do with my comment above?

        • Dave Bellini

          What proposal? This was a last minute gimmick to have an excuse to veto a budget. If the Governor or legislators, wanted legislation to impact collective bargaining there could have been a bill introduced in January. Now, after near unanimous agreement on the budget the republicans want the Governor to veto it and they’ll all back him up. This is the type of stunt the former Governor would pull. All those republicans who voted for the budget should continue to support it. There’s new taxes or fee increases. Everybody should be happy. But noooo, we have to have 7th grade drama club.

    • Arthur Hamlin

      I hope Phil Scott’s proposal eventually passes. If he has to veto the budget so be it.
      Why isn’t anyone talking about this? If the VT NEA was advocating for a statewide health insurance three years ago aren’t they being hypocritical now?

  • Felicia Scott

    Is there really some reason that teachers think they are a special class of employees? Is there some reason they should have more and the children they are supposed to teach have less? I have no sympathy for these teacher unions and would not allow my kids near anyone of them. My kids deserve better.

  • Most Vermont taxpayers have not had the benefit of collective bargaining to get the level of income and benefit increases that teachers have over the years. I believe Vermont’s collective bargaining process is lop-sided with the VTNEA having more power than our town / city school boards especially with the threat of or an actual strike tactic. VTNEA should NOT be able to hold our children’s education hostage as a way to get what they want. It’s time for Vermont taxpayers to organize to push back on the VTNEAs coercive tactics.

  • Stephen Langan

    Vermont pays more to educate its students than any other state, we are number one in per student spending. That is the problem, 80% of this inequity is because of years of bending to VT NEA demands. They have created this situation: taxpayers have been bled dry. So don’t come crying about Governor Scott union busting. Statewide negotiations will finally put the VT NEA on an equal footing with taxpayers and they will be forced to make their demands more reasonable.

    I applaud Governor Scott and thank him for his courage in facing down this bully union who for too long have been beating local school boards into submission. The Governor’s plan is supported by taxpayers, half the Vermont House legislators and local school boards because we are all drowning. It is incredibly shameful that Vermont pays more than any other state, nothing the union says or does, nothing the teachers say or do, will make this statistic go away. Unions that go too far are the problem, they bankrupt companies, cities and towns, with their demands. Enough is enough! Taxpayers need a champion to battle Martha Allen’s greed and the VT NEA.

    Thank you Governor Scott and thank you to the brave republican and democratic legislators who voted for this plan at the peril of their jobs. We are only in this mess because Mitzi Johnson cast a tie-breaking ‘no’ vote against it. The VT NEA wields a lot of clout. Please call your legislators and let them know voters have their backs!

  • Here’s an excellent article by Representative Laura Sibilia recommending a statewide contract: https://vtdigger.org/2017/05/16/laura-sibilia-statewide-contract-brings-parity-accountability/

  • Pam Ladds

    The rally was at 4:30 pm, after the school day