October 22, 2014
Vermont-NEA President Questions Governor’s Support of Teachers
MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin’s remarks last week about outlawing teachers’ strikes while South Burlington’s teachers were on the picket lines has the president of the state’s largest union questioning the governor’s support.
In a letter delivered today, Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen said the governor’s remarks were ill-timed and gave the impression that he was blaming teachers for exercising their right to strike. (You can read the letter here.)
“Our teachers were demoralized when they heard your words,” Allen wrote. “They were striking as a last resort and truly wanted to continue to negotiate, but the school board was not willing to continue at that time. You may be supportive of the collective bargaining process, but it appeared otherwise to our teachers and the general public.”
When members of the South Burlington Educators Association struck for the first time in the city’s history, they were exercising a fundamental right guaranteed in state law. They struck only after 11 months of failed negotiations led to an expired contract. In the middle of the strike – which ended Saturday with a three-year contract – Gov. Shumlin told media outlets that teachers’ strikes should be illegal and replaced with binding arbitration.
“When our members are walking the picket lines, the last thing they want to hear is the governor blaming them for exercising their legal rights,” Allen said. “Instead of the support I and my fellow members expect from this governor, we got a lecture. That’s not how people treat their friends, and our members have taken notice.”
The issue of replacing teachers’ right to strike with binding arbitration is an idea that is actually supported by Vermont-NEA. Indeed, then-State Senator Shumlin wrote to the union in 1999 praising it for its stance on the issue.
The problem with the governor’s ill-timed criticism of teachers was that he spared the very people who have killed binding arbitration every time it comes up: the school boards and their statewide association.
“As the head of the Democratic Governors Association, Shumlin doesn’t need to be reminded of how important union support has been to building and supporting a strong middle class,” Allen noted. Vermont-NEA and Gov. Shumlin have worked together – and effectively – on many issues, including health care reform, the preservation of the teachers’ pension system and insulating Vermont’s teachers from much of the standardized testing madness sweeping the nation.
“My union and especially my 225 fellow members who were on strike last week deserve better from their governor,” Allen said. “Right now, many of our 12,000 members are questioning the governor’s commitment to them, their profession and their union.”
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October 14, 2014
South Burlington Teachers File Unfair Labor Practice, Citing Board’s Stalling Tactics
SOUTH BURLINGTON – The South Burlington Educators Association today filed an unfair labor practice charge against the city’s school board, asserting that it circumvented the bargaining process by trying to negotiate directly with members and by employing stalling tactics to delay reaching a settlement.
Teachers went on strike this morning after the board wasted the last week manufacturing excuses instead of bargaining with the union’s negotiating team. The unfair labor practice charge was filed at the Vermont Labor Relations Board earlier today.
According to the filing, the board bargained in bad faith when it came to a negotiating session October 6 unprepared to respond to the union’s compromise offer. The filing also says the board unlawfully engaged in direct dealing with employees when they held an all-employee meeting yesterday to discuss their out-of-synch health care proposals.
“For almost a year, we have tried to reach a fair settlement with the board,” said SBEA Chief Negotiator Eric Stone. “At every turn, they have chosen to ignore the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder. In the last week alone, we’ve made two compromise offers only to be met with manufactured excuses of why they can’t engage in the back-and-forth necessary to reach a settlement.”
The union’s members last week voted overwhelmingly to strike beginning today if the board failed to reach a fair settlement with teachers. The union remained available to bargain for the last week; the board said it would not meet until Thursday, two days after the strike deadline.
As teachers walked picket lines for the first time in the city’s history, the board’s high-priced lawyer ordered teachers to move their cars from the public parking lot shared by the high school, middle school, library and athletic fields.
“It’s a shame that the board and their attorney have the time to order teachers out of parking lots but can’t find the time to bargain with us,” Stone said.
This is the first teachers’ strike in South Burlington’s history. The city’s teachers remain the only ones in Chittenden County without a contract.
# # #
October 13, 2014
South Burlington Teachers Open Strike Headquarters as Board Continues to Waste Time
SOUTH BURLINGTON – The South Burlington Educators Association today will officially open its strike headquarters in preparation for a walk-out that the school board still has to time avert.
“We’ve now made two compromise offers in an effort to get the school board back to the table and their only response is to delay,” said Eric Stone, SBEA’s chief negotiator. “We meant it last week when we said we would go on strike if an agreement isn’t reached. Instead of clearing their calendars and using the last seven days to reach a settlement, the board is seemingly more interested in wasting time.”
Union members will be opening strike headquarters at 4049 Williston Road in South Burlington. (Please use this link to get directions http://mapq.st/7-YgPxL6WV.) Stone will address the media at 3:30 p.m. today with updates on negotiations and strike plans.
“At this point, it is up to the board to prevent a disruption to the city’s schools, students, parents and residents,” Stone said. “But there isn’t much time. Let’s hope the board has enough respect for the community and students they represent to meet with us now and resolve this dispute before tomorrow morning.”
# # #
October 12, 2014
South Burlington Teachers Send Board New Compromise Offer Despite Board’s Refusal to Meet Before Tuesday Strike Deadline
SOUTH BURLINGTON – Negotiators for the South Burlington Educators Association today responded to the school board’s latest contract offer even though the board says it can’t meet to bargain before Tuesday’s strike deadline.
The union’s latest offer is a further compromise from an offer it made last Monday, and it represents a proposal that is completely in line with recommendations made by a neutral fact-finder.
“We are beyond frustrated that the school board has decided to waste precious time rather than work with us to keep our schools open,” said SBEA Chief Negotiator Eric Stone. “The board took four days after walking out of bargaining to respond to our compromise offer last week; we’ll see how long they take to respond to a further compromise. In an era of email, Skype, telephones and many ways to communicate, it is ludicrous that the board would refuse to meet with us immediately to settle.”
The school board met with the union’s negotiating team Monday after refusing the services of a seasoned mediator who has helped settle many contract disputes across the state. The union made a compromise offer only to be told that the board was “unprepared” at that time to respond to the offer. The board’s response finally came Friday afternoon.
“We’re here and available all day today and all day Monday,” Stone said. “The board has to know that coming to a settlement before Tuesday is what’s best for the board, our schools, students, community and teachers.”
SBEA members last week voted overwhelmingly to strike Tuesday morning unless the board reaches a tentative agreement with teachers before then. South Burlington’s teachers remain the only ones in Chittenden County without a contract, despite months of attempting to reach a deal.
# # #
October 10, 2014
South Burlington Teachers Receive Board's Response to Compromise Offer Four Days Late
SOUTH BURLINGTON -- The South Burlington Educators Association just received the school board's response to a compromise offer made four days ago.
"We have received the board's response, and have begun reviewing it," said SBEA Chief Negotiator Eric Stone. "Of course, we have been in our classrooms all day, and haven't had a chance to see it. It's a real shame the board wasted four long days to get back to us."
The board indicated that it would not be available to talk about their proposal again until Thursday, Oct. 16. However, the members of SBEA voted overwhelmingly to strike on Tuesday morning unless the board reaches a tentative agreement by then.
"What is the board waiting for? We are available any time between now and Tuesday to resume negotiations," Stone said. "The board needs to stop delaying and join us at the table before Tuesday."
# # #
October 7, 2014
South Burlington Teachers Set to Strike on Oct. 14
SOUTH BURLINGTON – Members of the South Burlington Educators Association today voted to strike on Oct. 14 if the school board fails to reach a settlement before then.
“The membership is extraordinarily frustrated that our school board continues to be the only one in the county unable to reach a fair contract deal with its teachers,” said Eric Stone, the union’s chief negotiator. “They had a great opportunity to reach a settlement with us last night, when we came prepared to bargain through the night. Instead, the board walked out after saying they were unprepared to respond to our latest offer.”
Teachers have been working without a contract since the summer; they have sought a settlement with the South Burlington School Board for months, to no avail. Last night’s bargaining session was prompted after the union asked the board to enlist the services of a seasoned mediator who has settled contract disputes around the state. The board refused to use a mediator.
“The board should make no mistake: we are united, we are serious, and we are committed to reaching a settlement before next Tuesday,” Stone said. “It’s up to the board to prevent a strike. They should talk to every other board in the county if they truly don’t know how to bargain until an agreement is reached.”
The vote to authorize a strike came during a members-only meeting earlier this afternoon at the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School. More than 200 teachers participated in an informational picket before last night’s aborted bargaining session. Informational pickets are scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday.
# # #
October 7, 2014
Teachers to Vote on Next Step in Contract Dispute
SOUTH BURLINGTON – After the South Burlington School Board walked out of negotiations last night saying they were unprepared to respond to a new contract proposal from teachers, members of the South Burlington Educators Association today will vote on their next step.
“We came prepared to bargain all night,” said Eric Stone, the union’s chief negotiator. “Instead of working with us to reach an agreement, the board’s chairwoman simply said ‘we are unprepared to make a counter-proposal.’ It is this kind of behavior that keeps us as the only teachers in Chittenden County without a contract.”
Teachers will meet this afternoon in a members-only gathering in the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School library at 3:45 p.m. Stone will hold a press conference after the meeting – expected to be at about 4:30 p.m. – to announce what the teachers decided.
The South Burlington School Board agreed to meet with teachers last night after the union asked them to enlist the services of a seasoned, neutral mediator who has helped settle contract disputes around the state. The board refused to use the mediator, and ultimately walked out of negotiations instead of respond to the union’s latest compromise offer.
More than 200 teachers participated in an informational picket along Dorset Street before last night’s bargaining session. Informational pickets are scheduled to take place again tomorrow and Thursday.
# # #
September 12, 2014
Rob Rober Has the Right to Be Wrong
(In this op-ed submitted to media outlets, President Martha Allen responds to an anti-union screed from the Ethan Allen Institute)
By Martha Allen
It’s always fun – in a what-will-they-come-up-with-next kind of way – to read the ramblings from Vermont’s most prolific right-wing think tank. And the latest screed from Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper doesn’t disappoint.
Waving the “results” of a “poll” done under the auspices of a national anti-union group and funded in part by a company shilling liability insurance to teachers, Roper claims that a majority of Vermonters want the freedom to join or leave a labor union, and then goes on to assert that the General Assembly’s support of workers’ real rights is “out of touch” with Vermonters.
With all due respect, it is Roper and his tired anti-worker, pro-corporation mantra (repeated from the Koch Brothers’ national pro-billionaire playbook) who are out of touch.
To begin with, workers in Vermont are free to join unions – or not join. And, believe it or not, people are free to leave unions, too. Indeed, looking into the methodology of the “polling” done as part of the laughably named “National Employee Freedom Week” reveals a two-question survey that wouldn’t pass muster in an elementary school statistics course let alone reality. The same “poll” asserts that almost a third of union members would choose to quit if they could do so while retaining the benefits won by the union – even without paying dues. (Ever ask someone if they would rather pay for something or get it for free? That’s what we’re talking about here).
Putting aside the “results” touted by Roper, let’s look to the fundamental part of his argument – that so-called right-to-work states are better for working men and women. And while Roper – in typical fashion – cherry picks information that purports to show workers better off in states that have all but obliterated unions in favor of granting enormous power to corporations and employers, the actual facts tell a far different story.
Before getting to the punch line (spoiler alert: you’re better off here in Vermont and other non-right-to-work states), let’s remember what unions did for America. The rise of unions in the private and public sectors coincided with a rise in the country’s middle class. It brought wage and hour laws; abolished child labor; instituted overtime pay; instituted due process in hiring and firing decisions; led to better pay and benefits at union and non-union shops; and was on the forefront of the greatest economic expansion the country had ever experienced. In short, unions and their members raised the standards of living of both members and non-members alike.
Sadly, the anti-worker crusaders and their acolytes like Roper have helped tip the balance in favor of corporations and away from working men and women and their families. While that crusade has had muted success in the more than half of the states – like Vermont – that do not limit the formation of unions, it is a constant reminder that without unions, workers everywhere get less.
Auditor Doug Hoffer crunched some numbers (from non-think tank sources) and found that contrary to Roper’s assertion that our elected officials are leading us in the wrong direction, union-friendly Vermont is doing well. Vermont is doing better than 21 of the 24 right-to-work states in a bunch of categories that should matter to working people: unemployment, median household income, growth in our economy to name a few. Our growth in per capita income is better than in 17 of the 24 right-to-work states; and, in the kicker, 10 of the right-to-work states lost more of their manufacturing job base than we did since 1990.
While the Vermont legislature in recent years – overwhelmingly not Republican – has been friendly to working men and women and their right to organize, it’s not because they are out of touch. It’s because they are representing the interests of their constituents, who, every other year, return them to Montpelier.
We agree with Roper in his desire for more fairness, common sense and prosperity in Vermont. (Who doesn’t?) Fortunately, he and his anti-worker brigade aren’t the ones in Montpelier making decisions that represent the real interests of Vermont’s working families.
Martha Allen, of Canaan, is president of Vermont-NEA. She writes on behalf of Working Vermont, the coalition of labor unions that represent more than 90,000 Vermonters in working families.
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August 7, 2014
State’s Largest Union Gives Nod to Shumlin, Corren
Vermont-NEA Board Says Candidates Support Working Vermonters
MONTPELIER – Vermont-NEA’s Board of Directors today recommended the reelection of Gov. Peter Shumlin for a third term while also giving a nod to Dean Corren, the Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor.
“While we have had our disagreements with the governor on issues from time-to-time, he has earned the right to continue serving the people of Vermont,” said Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen. “His commitment to making our schools the nation’s best, his support for workers and unions, and his efforts to make Vermont the first state with a publicly financed healthcare system available to all residents makes him an obvious choice.”
Shumlin, who met with the board of the state’s largest union yesterday afternoon, reaffirmed his support of issues that matter to Vermont’s working people. Despite his dangerous rhetoric about school spending that contributed to dozens of budget defeats this year, the governor has remained a supporter of local public schools and has often called them Vermont’s very best economic development tool. He signed into law bills that give people who take care of our state’s most vulnerable the right to form unions, and he was a supporter of last year’s law mandating fair share fee payments for people who benefit from the services unions are forced to provide even to nonmembers.
The board, when weighing the differences between the Democratic incumbent and his presumptive Republican opponent, travel agency owner Scott Milne, said the choice was clear. “We do hope for a vigorous campaign, and wish Scott well on the campaign trail,” Allen said. “However, on issues that matter to our members and all working people, Gov. Shumlin is the clear choice.”
For lieutenant governor, the board easily recommended Corren. A stalwart supporter of working people for his entire career, Corren also strongly backs the formation of Green Mountain Care, giving Shumlin a powerful ally in the effort to reform Vermont’s health care system. “Dean’s leadership will be critical in the coming two years if Vermont is to be successful in doing what no other state has ever been able to do,” Allen said.
The board interviewed all four candidates yesterday. The recommendations of Shumlin and Corren round out Vermont-NEA’s statewide slate. In June, the board gave early nods to Treasurer Beth Pearce, Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State Jim Condos. The board, along with the board of the National Education Association, already recommended the re-election of US Rep. Peter Welch.
# # #
June 30, 2014
Supreme Court Continues Assault on Working People
Vermont-NEA President Says Decision in Fair Share Case Weakens Middle Class
MONTPELIER – The U.S. Supreme Court today eroded the economic security of working families in Vermont and around the country when its conservative majority struck down a fair share fee law that resulted in an agreement between the state of Illinois and unionized home health care workers.
In the much-anticipated Harris v. Quinn case, the Supreme Court said that non-union members of the home health care bargaining unit can benefit from better wages, working conditions and contract protections that the union bargained for them without having to pay their fair share for those enhanced benefits.
“Today’s ruling is another in which the conservative majority on the court makes it harder for working families to thrive,” said Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen. “While the court thankfully left intact decades of fair share fee requirements for most unions – such as Vermont-NEA – it nonetheless weakens the middle class and jeopardizes the livelihoods of home health and child care workers.”
A similar home health care bargaining unit is represented in Vermont by AFSCME, which recently reached a contract – containing fair share fee provisions – with the state. The Vermont law and agreement are now in jeopardy.
Harris v. Quinn was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, whose extreme agenda is to eliminate all private and public-sector unions. The court’s majority all but invited further challenges to the decades-long practice of fair share fees.
“We are saddened at this assault on our brothers and sisters who do some of the hardest, most important jobs taking care of our most vulnerable fellow Vermonters,” Allen said. “Weakening unions does nothing but weaken the middle class. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a sad reminder that the decades-long war on the middle class shows no signs of letting up.”
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June 11, 2014
State’s Largest Union Recommends Re-election of Treasurer, Secretary of State and Auditor
Vermont-NEA Board gives nod to supporters of state’s middle class
MONTPELIER – Vermont-NEA’s board recommends the re-election of Treasurer Beth Pearce, Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State Jim Condos, calling them great friends of public education and working Vermonters.
“Beth, Doug and Jim have earned the right to continue working on behalf of Vermonters with their steadfast support of the state’s middle class,” said Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen. “Each has shown a true dedication to public education and all working people, and we look forward to working with them for the next two years.”
Vermont-NEA’s board doesn’t typically make candidate recommendations before the filing deadline, but in the case of these three statewide office holders, the board made an exception. “It really doesn’t matter who will file tomorrow for treasurer, auditor or secretary of state,” Allen said. “Beth, Doug and Jim have the unanimous support of me and my fellow board members.”
The reasons for the early nod are clear, Allen said. Treasurer Pearce was the driving force behind strengthening the teachers’ pension and retiree health benefits; Auditor Hoffer has ensured that public money isn’t wasted on programs that don’t benefit working people and pushed for protections for people who expose government waste; and Secretary of State Condos fights doggedly to ensure people have access to their government.
The board will make its recommendations for governor and lieutenant governor after the August primary.
May 6, 2014
Vermont Celebrates National Teacher Appreciation Week
Take a few moments to thank the teachers that made a difference in your life
MONTPELIER – National Teacher Appreciation week begins today, and to celebrate the many contributions educators make to our state, Vermonters can thank a teacher who made a difference in their lives.
“Every day, in classrooms throughout Vermont, teachers work hard to engage their students,” said Martha Allen, a 30-year veteran teacher and K-12 school librarian from Canaan who is president of Vermont-NEA. “Nothing means more to us than to watch the students we nurture become happy, successful people who never give up on learning.”
National Teacher Appreciation Week has been an annual staple in Vermont since 1964, and this year Vermont-NEA and the Vermont Agency of Education are asking Vermonters to participate in a fun social media campaign to honor the state’s more than 8,000 teachers.
“I go to work knowing our students are in good hands, and I’m thankful that my children are in Vermont schools” said Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe. “Teachers provide our students with rich learning opportunities every day. Teachers instill confidence and skills, which allow students to become the architects of their lives.”
To participate in the campaign, Vermonters can join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Vine. All it takes is a short tribute – either in writing, photo, or on video – to a favorite teacher using the hashtag #ThankATeacher. Prominent state officials, fellow teachers, school board members and other Vermonters have been asked to share their memories of teachers who had an impact on them.
“My favorite teacher was my high school ancient history teacher, Mr. Gould,” Allen said. “He engaged the entire class in thoughtful discussions and made connections with each of us. We worked harder in that class than any other because we believed that our voices were heard.”
Holcombe thanked Nancy Lee. “Thurgood Marshall once said ‘None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody - a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns - bent down and helped us pick up our boots.’ My teacher, Nancy Lee, handed me a pair of boots.”
April 5, 2014
Vermont-NEA Calls for Less Testing, More Learning
Resolution Calls for Limits to Standardized Tests While Reiterating Support of Common Core
SOUTH BURLINGTON – Vermont should drastically reduce the frequency of high-stakes standardized testing and instead focus on student learning, delegates to the Vermont-NEA annual meeting affirmed Saturday.
“While we emphatically embrace the rigorous Common Core State Standards, we believe they should be used to improve student learning and not as an excuse for yet another punitive testing regimen,” Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen said. “When we agreed to support the Common Core, we did not sign on for son-of-No-Child-Left-Behind testing schemes.”
Delegates unanimously approved a resolution calling for the Vermont Agency of Education to adopt a new testing system that tests students in grades 4, 8 and 11 as a more rational based schedule of testing compared to our current system, which calls for testing virtually every year in every grade.
The resolution also calls on local educators’ associations to encourage their local school boards to adopt a similar position, as well as create evaluation standards and practices that drive instruction, teaching and learning.
During the roll-out of the Common Core, educators in many states have faced inadequate training and implementation; at the same time, new, unproven standardized tests have been unleashed on students. Allen said she wants to prevent that from happening in Vermont.
“We are fortunate to have an education secretary who truly understands the proper role of standardized testing, and with whom we have a great, collaborative relationship,” she said, referring to Rebecca Holcombe. “Together, we can do what we’ve always done: teach Vermont’s students so that when they leave high school, they can pursue a path that makes them happy, productive members of their communities.”
December 9, 2013
Vermont-NEA Unveils Agenda for Student Success
Members of state’s largest union work every day for Vermont’s students
MONTPELIER – Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen on Monday unveiled the association’s agenda for student success that emphasizes rigorous standards, effective evaluation and expanded opportunities for Vermont’s public schools.
“As teachers and education support professionals, our members work every single day to ensure student success,” Allen said. “We know what it takes to motivate students, to help them learn, to push them to their highest potential. And sadly, we know what doesn’t work: more and higher-stakes standardized testing; cookie-cutter curricula that don’t take creativity into account; punitive evaluation systems; and a relentless drumbeat about the costs of public education.”
Vermont-NEA said student success will be ensured by:
“Educating our children is everyone’s responsibility,” Allen said. “But it is our job. It is a job we take seriously, and one that has a lasting impact on the children who will grow up to be the future of Vermont.”