Unions

In this file photo from 2014, signs are seen in the office of Mike Spillane of IBEW that describe past labor actions. On this "Vermont Edition," we're talking about the state's labor history and unions today.
Steve Zind / VPR File

Roughly one in 10 employed Vermonters belong to a union, and nearly half of those jobs are in public sectors like government and teaching. The role of organized labor has changed dramatically in recent decades, with union jobs declining in Vermont and nationwide. But organized labor, and how employers have responded to it, has profoundly shaped Vermont's history and culture.

The administration of Bennington College has reached a tentative settlement with 51 of the school’s unionized employees, mostly buildings and grounds, maintenance and dining service workers.

Charlotte Albright / VPR

Workers at the Lebanon Co-op Food Store have overwhelmingly rejected a bid to unionize.

Child care providers who voted for joining a union narrowly lost that election last month, but many of them believe they would have won if all the ballots had been counted.

Union supporters quickly filed an objection with the state Labor Relations Board that tallied the votes. But the board insists the election was fair.

Toby Talbot / AP

Last month adjunct faculty at Burlington College, Champlain College, and St. Michael's College all voted separately to join the Service Employees International Union. The faculty say they are looking for stability, benefits, and increased compensation.

With workers for FairPoint Communications still on strike, frustration is growing among customers who’ve been forced to wait for phone or Internet repairs. 

Brian Allen of South Pomfret says he and his wife lost phone and Internet service Oct. 29. He says they didn’t get their phone back until this week but he says it’ll be another five to ten days before their Internet is restored. 

 

Following the first negotiating session since labor contracts with FairPoint Communications expired 12 days ago, an official with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Vermont expressed frustration with the status of the talks. 

Mike Spillane, who is part of the IBEW negotiating team, said the two sides met with a federal mediator in Portland, Maine on Wednesday. 

Spillane says Thursday morning the union offered a contract package that was “further than we wanted to go.” 

Steve Zind / VPR

Two union contracts between FairPoint Communications and approximately 2,000 workers in Northern New England expired last Saturday. 

For the moment, workers are staying on the job under the terms of the old contract.  The next meeting between FairPoint and union negotiators will take place on Wednesday, August 13.

Mike Spillane, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Vermont, says he’s been hearing from members.

Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

Labor disputes between state workers and their employer generally play out behind closed doors, where union representatives and administration lawyers exchange testimony in confidence.

But John Howe, a counselor at the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, has chosen a different route. And on Thursday afternoon, his union colleagues marched alongside him as he walked to the Montpelier hearing room where he was to be interrogated about the alleged workplace violations that led to his placement on paid administrative leave last month.

Judy Taylor, a TWA flight attendant based in New York, sums up the sentiments of thousands of stranded travelers as she sits on her baggage at Boston's Logan Airport, July 8, 1966, after the start of the nationwide strike of five major airlines.
Bob Daugherty / AP

A potential bus drivers strike and a new union for home health care workers are just two of the stories that have recently raised the profile of organized labor in Vermont. But unions have significantly fewer members now than at their peak in the 1950s, and their organizing strategies have also changed.

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.

Update: Gov. Peter Shumlin confirmed Thursday that layoffs are taking place at IBM in Vermont.

A union group says it expects layoffs Wednesday at IBM’s Essex Junction facility.

Big Blue indicated earlier this year that layoffs were likely as a result of declining company profits.

Lee Conrad with Alliance at IBM said on Tuesday that the group is hearing that employees at IBM facilities in New York state and in Vermont will receive termination notices Wednesday.

Organizers say a vote to unionize by home care workers marks the largest unionizing effort in Vermont. It’s estimated there are 7,000 home care workers in the state. 

Now, as part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, they will negotiate with the state over issues like pay, hours and benefits.

VPR/John Dillon

Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin joined dozens of activists on Thursday in a call for legislation that would require employers to provide paid sick time.

Kunin said allowing people time off with pay when they’re sick is good for families and businesses. 

One of two labor unions competing to represent Vermont’s 7,000 home care workers has withdrawn from the election.

An organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said it’s bowing out in order to avoid a bitter dispute between two labor allies.

SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME, worked together in the Statehouse to win the right to organize the homecare workers. But they were then prepared to face off in a hard-fought, door-to-door election campaign to win votes.

VPR/John Dillon

Two unions are competing to represent up to 7,000 home-care workers in Vermont.

The union drive follows the Legislature’s decision to grant collective bargaining rights for people who care for elderly and disabled Vermonters.

The contest is between two labor organizations that specialize in organizing public employees and health care workers. Officials say it will be the largest union election in state history. 

The first to file petitions with the state labor Relations Board was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME.

Under a bill approved 85-to-53 by the Vermont House on Friday, teachers and municipal employees who are not members of a union would still have to pay agency fees.

Supporters argue that Vermont’s municipal and educational institutions have been unionized for years, and they say new hires have known they’re accepting a position in a union shop.

Speaking on the House floor after the vote Friday, Rep. Jean O’Sullivan, D-Burlington, said those workers have always accepted their benefits while expecting their workplace rights to be upheld.