Union Looks To Curb State's Use Of Temp Workers

Feb 28, 2014

The union that represents state employees says the Shumlin Administration is relying too heavily on temporary workers. And proposed legislation from the Vermont State Employees Association aims to turn many of those temps into fulltime government employees.

Temps aren’t counted as state employees. But they play a significant role in the operation of Vermont’s government. In fiscal year 2013 alone, the state spent more than $15 million on wages for temporary workers. And the state workers union says things are getting out of hand.

Michelle Salvador is a substance abuse prevention counselor at the Vermont Department of Health, and the first vice-president of the VSEA’s Board of Trustees. She told lawmakers earlier this month that temp workers have in many cases become stand-ins for positions formerly held by fulltime government employees.

Temps aren't counted as state employees. But they play a significant role in the operation of Vermont's government. In fiscal year 2013 alone, the state spent more than $15 million on wages for temporary workers

Unlike state employees, temps don’t get paid sick days or other benefits. And Salvador says increasing reliance on them has undercut workers’ rights, eroded the strength of the union, and deteriorated the quality of the services being delivered by government agencies.

“This is horribly unfair and inconsistent with Vermont’s values,” Salvador told lawmakers earlier this month. “It is disrespectful of the hard-earned collective bargaining agreements of state employees, and it leads to disruption and sometimes chaos in state government.”

Jeb Spaulding, secretary of the Agency of Administration, and he says the use of temp workers long predates the Shumlin administration. The state employs anywhere between 450 and 1,050 temps at any given time. And Spaulding says they often offer the most efficient and cost-effective solution for government needs – such as seasonal workers in state parks, or flaggers on summer highway projects.

About 60 percent of temps used in fiscal year 2013 were seasonal employees, according to data from the Department of Human Resources. And another 25 percent or so were for workplace emergencies, including family or medical leave.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence that reliance on temps has increased in recent years,” Spaulding says. “The use of temporary employees has been utilized as a management tool for decades – in most instances it makes sense.”

Spaulding though says the administration is willing to look at cases in which long-term temps are functioning as fulltime state employees, and bring them on the government rolls accordingly.

“In instances where there are people that are working a lot of hours a week for long periods of time, we are looking at those situations, and think we ought to be careful that we’re being a responsible employer,” Spaulding says.

The union is pushing for legislation that would require the administration to offer fulltime government employment to temps who work in excess of 1,040 hours per year – an average of 20 hours per week. Spaulding says the state can’t support the request. But he says the administration is working on a compromise package with the union and lawmakers.

Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham, is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, the panel vetting the union bill. She says she hopes to broker an agreement on the legislation by shortly after the town meeting break.

The union is also pushing for legislation that would curtail the administration’s use of private contracts by establishing more rigorous standards – including savings of at least 10 percent over what it would cost to perform the work in-house – for when government can enlist outside firms.