December 8, 2016
Rutland School Administrators Retaliated Against Educators Instead of Working to Stem Student-on-Staff Attacks
Union files unfair labor practice charge
RUTLAND – Instead of working to stem a years-long pattern of physical attacks by students on Rutland City Public Schools’ educators, the district’s leadership defied recommendations from state workplace safety experts and retaliated against the educators’ union, according to an unfair labor practice charge filed yesterday.
The charge comes after four years of escalating instances of student-on-staff violence, culminating with more than 71 attacks on 33 educators in a six-month period earlier this year. It also comes after workplace safety officials from the Vermont Department of Labor fined the district for its failure to address the growing – and continuing – problem. The charge was filed by the Rutland Education Association at the Vermont Labor Relations Board.
“Instead of working with us to solve a serious problem – one that affects students and staff alike – the district chose to blame the victims of violent attacks for engaging the Department of Labor,” said Ellen Green, a Rutland High School Spanish teacher who serves as the president of the Rutland Education Association.
Susan Ponto, an AP and Honors chemistry teacher at Rutland High School who serves as the union’s vice president and grievance chair, added, “It is of great concern that the administration and school board would rather blame educators than work collaboratively to protect students.”
According to the charge, which is lodged against the Rutland School Board, Superintendent Mary Moran and Assistant Superintendent Robert Bliss, administrators mislead safety investigators after reaching a settlement in which the labor department fined the district thousands of dollars for failing to “furnish each of its employees employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing significant physical harm to its employees” because “paraeducators and other staff were exposed to the hazard of workplace violence by” students.
The charge says that instead of working to address the underlying issues of student-on-staff violence, Bliss “attempted to blame staff for workplace violence by asserting that ‘the adults were antagonizing the students.’” Bliss also wrote to safety investigators that he “anticipated” that “the union will attempt to belittle the fact that their members did not conduct themselves professionally.”
Among the injuries to educators were some serious enough to warrant hospitalization. In its findings, the Department of Labor noted that educators encountered students “throwing, kicking, hitting or otherwise exhibiting inappropriate behavior.” The department also noted a “lack of management commitment” to give educators the ability to “effectively deal with workplace violence.”
Instead, according to the charge, Bliss authored guidelines that demanded that all educators wear closed-toe shoes to address what he said was the top cause of workplace injury: slips, trips and falls. When notified by the union of the apparent disconnect with student-on-staff violence, the Department of Labor slammed Bliss, saying, “It seems very odd to have this statement and resulting policy change…Is this related to the hazard (workplace violence) that we had originally spoken about? While this hazard could be a very valid concern, addressing it in this procedure seems odd and distracting from the original intent of protecting workers from hazards associated with violent interactions.”
The charge asks the Vermont Labor Relations Board to require the administration to cease retaliating against the union for reporting the unsafe working environment in Rutland schools; to work collaboratively with the union to address relevant safety remedies; and to rescind the closed-toe shoes policy and reimburse educators who had to purchase shoes to comply with the policy.
“What we in the REA have asked for since 2012 is that our administration and school board will work with us who are in the classrooms to keep our students and staff safe,” Green said. “It is disappointing that we have had to take the legal venue to achieve this. We would like to move forward to work with the administration to make our schools a model of safety for the state of Vermont.”
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November 7, 2016
Vermont-NEA Taps Fannon as New Executive Director
Union’s long-time general counsel to replace retiring Joel Cook on January 1
MONTPELIER – Jeff Fannon, the long-time chief lawyer for Vermont-NEA, will become the union’s new executive director on Jan. 1, replacing the retiring Joel Cook.
The union’s board of directors unanimously chose Fannon after a national search. “On behalf of the entire board, I am pleased that Jeff will continue his career-long dedication to working families and his deep commitment to Vermont’s educators and students,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA president. “We look forward to Jeff’s enthusiasm for unions as he works with the board, staff, and, most importantly, the members to making Vermont-NEA the strongest advocate for students it can be.”
Fannon takes over the reins from Cook, who will retire after a 24-year career with the union.
“For the past 15 years, I have been honored to work on behalf of Vermont’s educators, helping them protect their rights, influence their profession, and securing great working conditions so that Vermont’s students can thrive,” Fannon said. “I am excited to lead a dedicated staff of people whose commitment to our members is second-to-none.”
Fannon became the union’s general counsel in 2001, after two years as a lawyer in what was then known as the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration. Before that, he was a labor attorney at Mooney, Green, Baker, Gibson & Saindon PC, a private practice law firm in Washington, DC. Prior to that, he was an attorney for the Seafarers International Union in Maryland. He is a 1994 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, and he holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont. He lives in Adamant with his wife, Sharon Winn, and their children, Jack and Áine.
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October 24, 2016
Burlington Teachers Ratify Contract
Vote comes after union, board reached a tentative agreement that averted a strike
BURLINGTON – Burlington’s teachers today agreed to ratify the agreement reached last week with the school board that averted a strike and ensures a contract through August 2017.
“I am so proud of my fellow members,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association. “We showed that when we stand together, we can do great things. I am also pleased that we and the school board have reached a settlement that not only averted a strike, but also paved the way for all of us to work together on behalf of the city’s children.”
Details of the agreement – which replaces a set of employment policies imposed by the school board won’t be released until it is also ratified by the Burlington School Board.
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October 19, 2016
Burlington Teachers Reach Tentative Agreement with Board, Averting Strike
Negotiators for both sides worked hard to reach deal for a one-year pact that will keep schools open
BURLINGTON – Burlington’s teachers will not go on strike tomorrow as they and the city’s school board reached a tentative agreement for a one-year contract.
“I am pleased to tell Burlington students, parents and residents that school will begin on time tomorrow morning,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association, the teachers’ union. “I know this has been a hard road, but we’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the school board.”
The details of the agreement won’t be released until it is ratified by both parties.
“This is terrific news for Burlington’s students,” Brock said. “In the end, the board shares the same deep devotion to the city’s children as we do, and our teams were able to reach an agreement that will allow us all to devote ourselves to making our schools even better for all of our students.”
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October 13, 2016
Burlington Teachers Set Oct. 20 Strike Date
Union’s last resort comes after board chose imposition over negotiation
BURLINGTON – Members of the Burlington Education Association today voted to authorize a strike beginning Oct. 20 if a negotiated contract agreement isn’t reached.
“This afternoon, we voted to authorize our negotiating team to call a strike no earlier than Oct. 20 if a negotiated settlement is not reached during our upcoming bargaining session called by the mediator,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the Burlington Education Association president. “We did not ever think it would come to this, but the leadership of the school board has decided that division, political gamesmanship and walking away and imposing employment conditions was a better course than settling during more than a year of talks.”
Brock noted that there is still a chance to avoid a strike. “Teachers take this action with thoughtfulness and sadness,” she said. “We are acutely aware that a strike is disruptive for students, families, and for the community. There is a chance to avoid this strike, and it will require the board’s negotiating team to approach our scheduled mediation with a singular desire: obtaining a negotiated contract settlement.”
Mediator Ira Lobel called both the union and the board to a negotiating session that is to begin Oct. 19.
“I pledge that members of our team, as they always have, are willing and ready to roll up their sleeves and stay at the table as long as meaningful bargaining takes place,” Brock said.
The vote to strike comes after the school board became only the 21st in Vermont history to walk away from talks and impose employment policies for the current school year. As it happens, this board also imposed employment policies faster than any of its counterparts in Vermont history.
“As the men and women who work in our city’s schools every day, our first and primary priority is teaching Burlington’s children. That’s why we sought a swift, 1-year renewal of our contract more than a year ago,” Brock said. “We thought the board shared our desire to avoid a disruption in our school year. We hope that they will do what it takes to prevent it from happening.”
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October 12, 2016
Burlington Teachers to Vote on Next Steps
Press conference will follow the members-only meeting at Burlington High
BURLINGTON – The members of the Burlington Education Association on Thursday will meet to discuss and vote on the union’s next steps. The men and women who teach Burlington’s students desire a negotiated contract for the current school year and hope the board does, too.
WHAT: Burlington Education Association members will meet and vote what will be there next steps in the current contract situation.
WHEN: Thursday, October 13 from 3:45 pm to 4:45 pm. A PRESS CONFERENCE WITH BEA PRESIDENT FRAN BROCK WILL TAKE PLACE IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CLOSED-DOOR, MEMBERS-ONLY MEETING.
WHERE: Burlington High School auditorium
WHY: The union’s members will vote on their next steps.
Editors: Brock will also address the Burlington School Board during their meeting Thursday evening at 7 pm at the Edmunds complex on Main Street.
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October 5, 2016
On This Point We Agree: A Settlement is What’s Best for Burlington’s Students
(This op-ed by BEA President Fran Brock was submitted to the state's media)
By Fran Brock
Last week, School Board Commissioner Miriam Stoll rightly said “this is a critical time for the district and we need to pull together to move forward. This fact is indisputable.”
Indeed, it is indisputable. Unfortunately, she and her fellow board members have brought us where we are today. And while we firmly believe we can reach a contract settlement for the balance of the school year, the board’s leadership continues to flex political muscle rather than seek respectful common ground.
As the men and women who work in our city’s schools every day, our first and primary priority is teaching Burlington’s children. That’s why we sought a swift, 1-year renewal of our contract more than a year ago. We also knew – as surely did the board – that the coming year will bring significant changes to the health insurance landscape, and having a 1-year contract in place would give us time to focus on the complex negotiations ahead.
Sadly, under the direction of Board Chairman Mark Porter, the board did not share our objective. Indeed, in a virtually unprecedented letter to fellow Chittenden County superintendents and board leaders, Porter asked for advice on how to beat back the union. In the letter, he claimed that Burlington’s teachers were not conciliatory, “aren’t open to discussion” and “refuse to counter.” It is clear in that letter that he never intended to sit down with our negotiating team – all of them teachers, all of them willing to compromise – and reach a quick consensus on a contract.
More disturbing is that instead of talking directly to us, he and the board have hired outside consultants – even when they claim a shortage of money. In addition to their lawyer, the board kept – or keeps, we can’t tell from the information they’ve released to the public – an anti-union consultant on retainer, to the tune of almost $22,500. They have paid at least one former superintendent $20,000 to advise in these negotiations. They have also paid an economist almost $3,600.
The board has consistently refused to release to us or to the public a complete budget; the “line-item” budget produced last week fails to show how expenses align with revenue, how they compare to budgeted amounts, or other details common in most other school district budgets.
For teachers, the lack of transparency; the objective to go after the union early in the process; and the refusal to accept the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder is troubling. Such actions and behaviors only lead to frustration and distrust within the school district and within the community.
Our original intention of having a swift round of negotiations to reach an easy settlement that would have carried most of the now-expired contract forward one year is clearly unattainable. We never left the table. We offered to take what was recommended by the fact-finder.
When the board offered to talk again, we were hopeful. But the board’s “offer” to return to bargaining is, sadly, veneer. The “offer” essentially asks us to talk about everything except salary and benefits. In other words, it isn’t an offer to negotiate at all, but another ploy to make the press and public think they really want to return to the table. They are not.
We still want a contract. We still are willing to return to the table for a true negotiation, without demeaning preconditions. There still is time for members of the board to insist its leadership change course and settle.
I know all of us care about our city, our schools, and our students. We invite the board to put an end to the charade and talk to us seriously and respectfully until we have a contract.
Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher, is the president of the Burlington Education Association. She lives in Burlington.
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September 28, 2016
Burlington Teachers’ Statement on Negotiations
BURLINGTON – Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association, issued the following statement responding to the school board’s invitation to resume contract talks:
“We are pleased that the board indicated a willingness to resume talks with Burlington’s teachers. But it is quite unfortunate that they put conditions on those talks. A negotiation with conditions is not a true negotiation. To be clear, when the board unilaterally decided to end talks and impose an employment policy on the city’s teachers, they did so knowing that we were willing to accept the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder.
“If the board’s invitation to resume talks is sincere – and that means removing the imposition and entering into meaningful talks with us – we welcome the chance to sit down. But if the board’s chairman puts preconditions on the invitation to talk, we can only conclude that this is more about optics and bargaining by press release than on truly reaching a negotiated contract settlement.”
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September 15, 2016
Burlington Teachers Formally Reject Imposed Working Conditions
As union’s members decide next steps, the Burlington Education Association urges the board to drop imposition and return to the table and settle
BURLINGTON – The men and women who teach Burlington’s children today unanimously voted to reject last week’s imposition of working conditions, saying the board’s action will cause nothing but disruption.
“By imposing working conditions on the Burlington Education Association, the Burlington School board signaled it would rather fight with teachers than reach a settlement,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the union’s president. “There is only one way to come back from the brink, and that is for the board to rescind the imposition and reach an agreement with us.”
At the time they voted 11-1 (with one abstention) to slam the door on continued negotiations, the teachers had offered to accept all of the recommendations made by a neutral fact-finder (you can read his report here). Board members said they didn’t want to impose – some even cried in explaining their votes – but they did so anyway. Mark Porter, the board chairman, often pointing his finger at the room packed full of teachers and parents, said his vote to impose should not be taken as a slight at teachers, but at “the union.”
“I have – we have – a message for Mr. Porter and others on the board who think they can separate our union from our members: we are all the BEA,” Brock said. “It’s a classic move by people who want to break unions, but we won’t be swayed.”
The teachers have sought a one-year contract for over a year now; before the board ended negotiations and imposed working conditions, teachers and the board had been honoring the terms of the expired contract. During those negotiations, the teachers have asked to see detailed financial records of the district that would support the board’s contention that accepting the teachers’ offer would cause substantial programming cuts.
“We have been met with the same resistance to transparency as have residents and parents,” Brock said. “The board consistently tells us and the community to ‘trust us.’ We would, except that pleas for records have been met with silence.”
Just last week, the board claimed that accepting the teachers’ most recent offer would result in $900,000 in program cuts. Then the board claimed that the difference was potentially $440,000. And, just this week, we learned on Facebook, of all places, that at least one board member reports that they have spent almost $260,000 on lawyers and consultants.”
“The board’s inability to produce the type of documentation to support their assertions does nothing to build trust with us, the community and parents,” Brock said. “And, frankly, it’s insulting to assert that paying us salaries that are in the middle of pay scales for surrounding districts will hurt students. The board has signaled for months now that it would rather sow disruption than to settle.”
Brock said the union’s members are determining their next steps. “But we sincerely hope the board does the right thing here and prevent any further disruption to the school year,” Brock said. “The district is in a crisis of the board’s making even as our superintendent is forced to be out of the country for more than two weeks. All of this could have been avoided. We urge the board rescind its imposed working conditions and join us back at the table.”
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August 31, 2016
Vermont-NEA Recommends Minter for Governor
Board of state’s largest union says Minter offers best hope for state’s children
MONTPELIER – Sue Minter will be a governor who will deliver a better future for Vermont’s students, schools, and communities, according to the board of the state’s largest union.
“Whether it’s her steadfast support of our local public schools, her commitment to enact more family-friendly programs, or her pledge to build a vibrant economy for all Vermonters, Sue Minter will be a governor to move our state forward,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA president. “We are proud to stand with Sue as she embarks on making this great state even better.”
Vermont-NEA’s board made its decision to back Minter after Minter completed a several-step recommendation process and delivered a strong debate performance. Both major party candidates for governor were asked to complete a questionnaire; both were invited to an interview with the board; and both participated in a live, professionally moderated debate on Aug. 22. While both candidates appeared in the debate and completed questionnaires, only Minter participated in the interview with the board.
“I am honored to have the support of the state’s largest union,” said Minter. “A core mission of my administration will be to support Vermont’s best-in-the-nation education system to ensure that the next generation of Vermonters has the best possible chance to succeed. That is why I will work to expand early childhood education and keep my Vermont Promise to provide two years of tuition-free education at Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College. As governor, I look forward to working with our teachers and education support professionals to ensure that every Vermonter has a bright future.”
According to Allen, Minter’s advocacy on behalf of children, schools, and working families stands out. She also said Minter’s support of paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, making sure Vermonters have access to affordable health care, teachers’ right to strike, and of unions is crucial to the state’s economic future.
“We are certain that Sue’s vision for Vermont is one that brings great promise,” Allen said. “We look forward to many years of working together on behalf of the state we all love. Sue’s leadership will prompt all of us to do the work we need to do in ensuring that Vermont remains the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”
Earlier, the board recommended other state-wide candidates: David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor; Beth Pearce for treasurer; TJ Donovan for attorney general; Doug Hoffer for auditor; and Jim Condos for secretary of state.
Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.
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August 18, 2016
Vermont-NEA Recommends Zuckerman for Lt. Governor
Board of state’s largest union says the candidate will advance the needs of children, schools and working Vermonters
MONTPELIER – The board of directors of the state’s largest union today announced its recommendation of Sen. David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor, saying he will advocate for the state’s students, schools and working families.
“Throughout his long career in public service, Sen. Zuckerman has kept the needs of working Vermonters first,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “We have always admired his principled approach. Whether it’s ensuring that all children get an outstanding public education or insisting that working men and women are treated fairly, David is consistent in his approach while never giving up the fight.”
Zuckerman, a Hinesburg organic farmer, was pleased to earn the board’s recommendation. “I have long respected and admired the work Vermont-NEA’s educators do every single day in our local classrooms,” Zuckerman said. “I am honored to have their backing, and will continue to fight for working people, for students, and for unions as lieutenant governor.”
The board of directors invited the two major party candidates to an interview, and also asked each candidate to fill out a questionnaire on issues important to Vermont’s students and educators. Both Zuckerman and his Republican counterpart, Randy Brock, participated in the recommendation process. Both were interviewed by the board last week.
“We appreciated Randy’s participation in our process, and thank him for taking the time to meet with us,” Allen said. “He, like David, has strong and consistent views on issues confronting students, schools and working people, and he was gracious enough to share those with us. In the end, David’s views are more in line with our own.”
Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.
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August 18, 2016
Burlington Education Association Statement on Contract Negotiations
The following statement can be attributed to Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association:
It is unfortunate that the school board and its negotiating team prefer to issue press releases rather than stay at the bargaining table to reach a settlement. Instead of trying to score points in the media, Board Chairman Mark Porter and his team should be trying to reach a settlement with the men and women who actually work in our city’s schools.
We will not negotiate in the press, because contract agreements are rarely made that way. Instead, we remain focused on doing right by our students, our schools and our wonderful city. All along, we have stressed the need for the board to negotiate with us fairly, and to honor its contractual agreements. We have also stressed the need for the board to be honest and transparent with the city’s taxpayers, educators, students and parents.
A fact-finding report, issued by a neutral third-party, has been released to the board and to the association. By law, only the parties can review the report in the first 10 days of its release. We chose to honor that 10-day cooling-off period in the hopes that the board and we could reach a settlement before our contract expires on Aug. 31.
Sadly, the board is more interested in making noise in the press than it is in reaching an agreement with us. There is still time, and we implore the board to negotiate with us at the table, and not through press release.
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August 17, 2016
Minter, Scott to Spar in First Post-Primary Debate
Vermont-NEA is proud to sponsor the debate, which will be broadcast live on the stations of Vermont-PBS
MONTPELIER – The two major party candidates for governor will participate in the first debate of the general election on Monday in a 90-minute contest broadcast live on the stations of Vermont-PBS. The debate, sponsored by Vermont-NEA, will take place at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph.
“We are pleased to give Vermonters a chance to see Phil Scott and Sue Minter discuss the issues that are important to our state,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “My fellow members and I are proud to sponsor this debate, and we urge all Vermonters to tune in.”
While underwritten by the state’s largest union, the debate will be independently moderated by two journalists: Peter Hirschfeld of Vermont Public Radio and Lola Duffort of the Rutland Herald. They have been given complete editorial control, and their questions will not be shared with Vermont-NEA or the campaigns in advance. Audience members will be able to submit questions as well.
The campaigns will have tickets to distribute, and the union will also offer seats to its members.
This is the second-such gubernatorial debate hosted by the union at the Chandler Music Hall in the last 10 years. Doors will open for audience members at 6 p.m. and will close at about 6:45 p.m. The debate starts promptly at 7:30 p.m.
Press who wish to cover the event can contact Darren Allen at Vermont-NEA.
Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.
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July 12, 2016
State’s Largest Union Follows Bernie’s Lead
Vermont-NEA Joins Sanders in Recommending Clinton
PORTSMOUTH, NH – Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen today joined Bernie Sanders in recommending the election of Hillary Clinton for president, saying the stakes are too high to remain divided.
“I and my union have been unwavering supporters of Bernie for decades because of his unwavering support of students, educators and all working people,” Allen said while attending the first joint campaign appearance with Clinton and Sanders here. “And now that Bernie is throwing his support behind Secretary Clinton, we believe that uniting behind one candidate is our best chance at preventing Donald Trump from becoming president.”
Bernie said that candidate is Hillary Clinton.
“Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nominating process, and I congratulate her for that. She will be the Democratic nominee for president. And I intend to do everything I can to make certain she will be the next president of the United States,” Bernie said. “Together we will continue to fight for a government that represents all of us and not just the 1 percent, a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”
Vermont-NEA was the first union in the country to recommend Bernie’s candidacy more than a year ago. At the time, Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, Vt., said, “We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known. Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: he is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”
The whole country did get to know Bernie in the year since. Running an incredible grassroots campaign, Bernie helped shape the tenor and content of the Democratic contest for president. His campaign brought issues of racial and economic justice, corporate greed, and the needs of working people to the forefront. And now the best opportunity to move Bernie’s vision forward is to ensure that Clinton is elected president in November, Allen said.
“So when Bernie says that Hillary will stand up for us all – that she will give educators a voice in the future of this country – we know he means it,” Allen said. “Already, Hillary has partnered with Bernie to propose plans to make college more accessible and give more Americans a shot at affordable health care. These ideas are now part of the Democratic Party platform, and they’re a great example of how Hillary and Bernie know we’re stronger when we work together.”
Allen acknowledged that some of Bernie’s supporters aren’t yet ready to vote for Clinton.
“I know that there are many Bernie supporters who don't want to support Hillary. I have heard from ‘Bernie or Bust’ folks and those who will write Bernie in on the ballot,” she said. “I understand this temptation, but I am strongly against this strategy. We absolutely cannot lose this election. Do we want to let a narrow minded, self-centered racist and sexist hold the most powerful position in the world? Really? Do we want to let the next few Supreme Court Justices be chosen by such a man? Absolutely not. It is up to us to make sure this doesn't happen.”
Vermont-NEA was the last state affiliate of the National Education Association to recommend Clinton. Allen said with today’s endorsement, Bernie made it clear that his desire is to support Clinton, even in a state where Bernie won 86 percent of the primary vote. Today, Allen wrote an email to fellow NEA members nationwide urging the nation’s educators to thank Bernie and join him in supporting Clinton.
“We simply must vote for the Democratic candidate for president and the many down ticket candidates who are fighting for the middle class and our public schools,” Allen said. “This will only happen if we go to the polls this fall and vote for candidates who support our values and beliefs. We may have lost a battle, but we can win the war!”
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April 14, 2016
Vermont-NEA Executive Director to Retire
After 24 years with state’s largest union, Joel Cook to end career in December
MONTPELIER – Joel Cook, the long-serving executive director of Vermont-NEA, will retire in December after nearly a quarter century of service to the state’s largest union and its 12,000 members.
Cook joined Vermont-NEA in 1992 as the association’s general counsel, becoming executive director in 2000. He will end a four-decades-long career devoted to making life better for Vermont’s students, educators, seniors, working people, and Vermonters who economically disadvantaged.
“While we wish Joel well on his well-deserved retirement, we will miss his steadfast dedication to Vermont-NEA and to its purpose,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA president. “Joel’s advocacy on behalf of the women and men who work in Vermont’s schools has been as unwavering as his desire to do what’s best for our state’s children.”
Allen said the union will begin a national search for his replacement in the coming weeks. As executive director, Joel oversees a $5 million-a-year, 20-employee operation.
“I have been proud of what we have accomplished together over the years,” Cook said. “Vermont-NEA has been – and will continue to be – the state’s greatest champion of children and of the people we entrust to educate them.”
In 1975, after earning a law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law, Cook began his career in Vermont as an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid. During his 10 years there, he advocated for people with mental health problems; helped clients with welfare, unemployment and disability issues; and directed the organization’s senior citizen law project. In 1985, he joined the administration of Madeline Kunin as the director of the Vermont Office on Aging and as the first Commissioner of what is now the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. He joined Vermont-NEA in 1992, becoming executive director in 2000. During his tenure, many protections for children as well as for educators and other working people became law because of his advocacy.
“Vermont-NEA’s members and their families have benefited directly from Joel’s work over the years,” Allen said. “But Joel hasn’t advocated just for our members; he has worked just as fiercely on behalf of all working Vermonters.”
Cook lives in Charlotte with his wife Christine Cook, who was a special education teacher – and member of Vermont-NEA – for 32 years. They have three children: Shoshana, who is an attorney in Maine; Sarah, a middle school math teacher in Massachusetts; and Joshua, who is about to begin work with the Vermont Department of Families and Children.
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March 16, 2016
Vermont-NEA Urges Shumlin Administration to Settle With State Workers
State’s largest union calls for state to return to table and reach quick, fair settlement
MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont-NEA’s 12,000 members stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters of the Vermont State Employees Association in their quest to reach a fair settlement with the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin.
“As fellow public employees, we stand with the thousands of Vermont state workers who have so far been unable to convince the administration to reach a fair settlement, despite months of negotiating and compromising,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “It is long past time for the state to get back to the table. We urge the administration to do so.”
More than 4,000 state workers in three units – Non Management, Corrections, and Supervisory – have been working toward a settlement, only to be met with delays and resistance.
Earlier this month, the Vermont-NEA Board of Directors passed a resolution urging a rapid and fair conclusion to bargaining:
Vermont-NEA stands with VSEA in its desire to reach a reasonable and fair collective bargaining agreement with the Administration. It is time for this round of negotiations to be brought to a successful and agreeable resolution. It is also past time for the State of Vermont as a whole to come to terms with its insufficiently progressive approach to tax policy, which pits people and households, who are just trying to make things work, against each other. It is time to adopt a thoroughgoing progressive tax structure that enables families to thrive, and our government to function well.
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March 9, 2016
Vermont-NEA Backs AG Candidate TJ Donovan
State’s largest union says Donovan’s progressive approach good for children, schools, families
MONTPELIER, Vt. – The board of Vermont’s largest union today announced its support for TJ Donovan’s bid to be the state’s next Attorney General.
“TJ brings a refreshing commitment to the state’s children and working people,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, Vt., who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “Whether it’s his successful restorative justice programs, his work to help people reinstate their driving privileges or his unabashed support of the right of workers to form unions, we are confident he will be an Attorney General who puts the interests of working families first.”
The nod marks the union’s first for a statewide candidate this election cycle; it is also the first time in more than a decade that the board has made a recommendation in the Attorney General’s race.
“I am deeply humbled to receive the endorsement of the Vermont NEA and consider it a great honor,” Donovan said. “Our educators are the backbone of our society and every day they see first-hand the impacts of government policies and social pressures on Vermont’s children and families. I greatly value our educators’ trust and confidence in my candidacy and as Attorney General would look forward to their partnership and input.”
The board invited Donovan for a lengthy interview earlier this month, where he committed to making Vermont’s justice system fairer for working people. He told the board that as Attorney General, public safety is his top priority, and education is one of the most important pillars of public safety.
His focus on restorative – rather than punitive – justice will pay many dividends in our families, communities and schools. His pledge to help people caught in the suspended drivers’ license cycle back on the roads legally will lead to more job opportunities. And his unabashed support of unions – and respect for collective bargaining – is increasingly rare among public officials.
“When a crime is committed, a torrent of negative results erupts,” Allen said. “The impacts spread far beyond the victim and the person who committed the crime. Entire families suffer, including the children we see in our classrooms every day. We are confident that TJ’s holistic approach to criminal justice will make Vermont a better place for all of us.”
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January 18, 2016
When Montpelier Can’t Get the Math Right
By Martha Allen
(This op-ed was distributed to the news media)
It will come as no surprise that I have long opposed caps on what local communities can spend on their children’s education. Our long history of local voters, taxpayers, parents and educators coming together to determine how much to invest in their local schools has served generations of Vermonters well, giving us a public school system that is rivaled by few in the country.
Montpelier has tried – and largely stumbled – to “do something” about schools because of the notion that the public is telling them to do something (despite a long record of more than 90 percent passage of local school budgets). Last year, that something was Act 46, the school district consolidation law. To make districts want to merge, politicians claimed that the act would lead to more opportunities for more children. But another part of the law is doing just the opposite: The two-year allowable growth percentages are already causing more than 125 districts to reduce educational opportunities for students as they struggle to fit under this arbitrary spending cap.
And the kicker? Montpelier can’t even get the math right. Last week, we learned that there were mistakes in calculating the caps, meaning that most school districts were given the wrong spending limits. To some folks in Montpelier, this is nothing more than a dispute about numbers.
But to me, and my fellow 12,000 public school educators, this is a fundamentally dangerous path for our state’s children. Vermont-NEA is hardly alone in our opposition to arbitrary caps: the state’s school boards, superintendents and principals also understand that caps, in any form, are bad public policy because they always lead to shortchanging our kids.
In a list of proposed cuts recently compiled by the Vermont Principals’ Association, the breadth and depth of lost opportunities is stunning:
We testified against the spending caps (as did hundreds of educators in emails and phone calls to their legislators) for this very reason. The quality of what we can offer Vermont’s children is one of the reasons why the quality of life in our state is ranked among the best in the country. So why on earth would Montpelier actively work to decrease opportunity for Vermont’s children by weakening our schools?
Obviously, I can’t answer that question. I’ve worked my entire professional life in Vermont public schools, and I can tell you that every single educator in Vermont puts students first.
These caps should never have been signed into law, as they are having the exact effect we warned about last year when we testified against them. Even before the cap miscalculations, these caps were a bad idea. They are even more of a bad idea now.
The only math that adds up is to repeal the caps. Let those closest to our children – local school boards, parents, taxpayers, and educators – do what they’ve done for generations when it comes to making decisions about their schools.
It’s time for Montpelier to admit its mistake. For our children’s sake, let’s follow the lead of Gov. Peter Shumlin, the American Civil Liberties Union, the state Senate and many others and vote to repeal the caps now, before even more harm is done to Vermont’s future.
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October 28, 2015
Rutland Northeast Bus Drivers, Paraeducators Set Strike Date
Lower-paid school employees also intend to file unfair labor practice against boards
BRANDON – Bus drivers and paraeducators serving the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union authorized a strike to begin on November 16.
Members of the Rutland Northeast Education Association support staff unit this evening overwhelmingly voted to strike unless a settlement is reached with the boards before November 16. They have been without a contract since July 2014, and have been working under imposed salary and insurance cost provisions since the beginning of the school year.
“For more than a year and a half, we’ve attempted to negotiate a fair contract,” said Loretta Johnson, a paraeducator who is the union’s president. “Unfortunately, instead of staying at the table, the boards destroyed years of cordial labor relations by imposing working conditions on me and my fellow members.”
Johnson said that the union chose a strike date that occurs after the completion of the fall sports schedule. “The reason we all work here is because of our dedication to students,” she said. “We, too, are proud supporters of all of our championship-caliber sports teams.”
The union’s members also voted to authorize the filing of an unfair labor practice charge against the boards. “This comes about only after months and months of inaction by the boards,” she said.
Johnson made it clear that there is a much easier route to travel. “We ask the boards to rejoin us at the table, where we are prepared to offer a compromise proposal that would allow us all to put the imposition behind us and allow us to reach an agreement at least through the end of this year school year or beyond,” she said. Johnson also said the union would be willing to use the services of a mediator to help reach a settlement.
The working conditions imposed by the board means that most members of the bargaining unit will see raises of less than $5 a week. Most paraeducators and bus drivers make between $16,000 and $20,000 a year, and most of them are forced to work two, three or even four jobs just to make ends meet.
In fact, according to figures released by the school district, the high-priced Burlington attorney advising the boards can make as much in three hours as many of the union’s members take home in a week.
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June 24, 2015
Vermont-NEA Makes Early Bid for Bernie
State’s largest union praises Sanders’ core pro-worker principles
MONTPELIER, Vt. – The board of Vermont’s largest union today announced its support for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination for president.
“We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, Vt., who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: he is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”
The union has long supported Bernie, citing his unwavering support of Vermont’s – and America’s – working class. His views on public education, economic inequality, and working men and women are in line with Vermont-NEA’s own values. With the board’s nod, members will begin to spread Bernie’s message, particularly to the state directly east of Vermont’s border.
“In Vermont, we’re very fortunate to have a senator who represents the middle class over the titans of Wall Street,” Allen said. “We believe that with Bernie in the White House, America’s working families will be able to flourish and grow. His ideas around banking reform, student debt, and public education are refreshing and exciting.”
Allen noted that the rest of the country is paying attention to Bernie. “Everywhere Bernie goes, he attracts over-capacity crowds,” Allen said. “His message – the same one he has had for decades – is resonating far from Vermont’s borders.”
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March 24, 2015
Hundreds of Addison Northeast Educators Give Superintendent Failing Grade
Results of school climate survey show that majority of district’s educators have no faith in David Adams to run schools
LINCOLN – A day after an overwhelming vote of no confidence in district Superintendent David Adams, members of the Addison Northeast Education Association revealed results of a school climate survey that show wide dissatisfaction with his three-year tenure.
The survey – completed by 251 district employees – used questions taken from the Vermont Agency of Education’s General Competencies for School Administrators. The results were unequivocal across the board: the vast majority of survey respondents concluded that Adams fails when it comes to vision, interpersonal skills, collaboration, forming partnerships, fostering a safe and effective learning environment, and in dealing professionally with school personnel.
“Before this survey, we suspected that Superintendent Adams wasn’t making the grade with educators, students or the community,” said Mikaela Frank, a teacher at Lincoln Community School and president of the Addison Northeast Education Association. “But this survey made it crystal clear. David Adams has lost the support, trust and faith of nearly everyone who works for him.”
Yesterday, armed the results of the survey, members of the local union overwhelmingly voted no confidence in Adams. “What this survey shows is that there is no way that David Adams can regain the trust and faith of the district’s educators. We have no confidence in his ability to share our vision of a district that puts students and their education first.”
Some findings show that:
Full survey results, along with the letter from the association to the Supervisory Union board, are available here.
February 11, 2015
Vermont-NEA Board Unanimously Backs Ending Philosophical Exemption in State’s Vaccination Laws
State’s educators throw support behind Sen. Kevin Mullin’s push to improve public health
MONTPELIER – The state’s largest union believes that Vermont should remove the philosophical exemption to vaccinations, saying that the state’s alarmingly large number of unvaccinated children is a threat to public health.
“We agree with our friend Sen. Kevin Mullin, who is once again trying to make Vermont safer for all of us, especially our children,” said Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen. “The fact that almost a third of our public schools have vaccination rates lower than what health officials consider safe is alarming and unacceptable in 2015.”
Mullin, a Rutland Republican who has been a long-time champion of immunizing all Vermont children, said that the time is right to scrap Vermont’s philosophical exemption. According to figures from the Vermont Department of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control, Vermont parents use the philosophical exemption proportionally more here than in almost any other state.
This week, the Vermont-NEA Board of Directors voted unanimously to support Mullin’s legislation to eliminate the philosophical exemption.
“Before vaccines, millions of children and adults were ravaged by diseases that caused great pain, permanent damage and even death,” Allen said. “And now that we are seeing the country’s worst measles outbreak since it was eradicated in America nearly 15 years ago, it’s time to make sure every Vermont child who can be vaccinated gets the protection they and society deserve.”
Nationally, the US is slipping in the percentage of children who are vaccinated; in fact, our national rate of people vaccinated against measles – 91 percent – is lower than in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. In Vermont, measles vaccination levels among kindergartners is 91.2 percent, second worst in New England and below that in most other states. And, the state health department reports, overall vaccination levels in 30 percent of Vermont public schools are below 90 percent, putting those children and educators at a greater risk of contracting diseases that have been all but eradicated for years. (Vermont’s lowest public school vaccination rate in 2013 was under 47 percent, at Windham Elementary School.)
“As the men and women who work with our children every day, we urge the Legislature to quickly pass Sen. Mullin’s bill,” Allen said. “And we urge Gov. Peter Shumlin to change his mind and sign such a bill into law. The health of Vermont’s children depends on it.”
Shumlin said that he would not favor a change in the law, arguing that it would be best to leave the current law alone. As he told Vermont Public Radio, “We have to find the balance between what we believe and individual liberties.”
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December 8, 2014
Vermont-NEA Donates More Than $12,000 to Striking Fairpoint Workers
MONTPELIER – The board of directors of the state’s largest union authorized a donation of $12,200 to the unions representing 2,000 Fairpoint Communications workers in northern New England who have been on strike for nearly two months.
“What Fairpoint is doing to our brothers and sisters is unconscionable and unacceptable,” said Martha Allen, president of Vermont-NEA, which represents 12,000 public education workers in Vermont. “These working men and women have offered millions of dollars’ worth of concessions to Fairpoint only to be met with silence and a refusal to compromise.”
Vermont-NEA’s board authorized the donation on behalf of the union’s members and locals, including the South Burlington Educators Association. “As all of us – particularly our recently-on-strike members in South Burlington – know, a strike is a last resort,” Allen said. “We implore Fairpoint to rejoin their loyal employees back at the negotiating table and stay there until a fair contract resolution is reached.”
Allen was pleased to add Vermont-NEA to the list of unions donating to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers-Communications Workers of America Solidarity Fund. “When workers strike for fair compensation, working conditions and benefits, it’s not just about them,” Allen said. “Our brothers and sisters walking the picket lines do so on behalf of all union members everywhere.” She pointed out that the striking workers have been without pay or health insurance coverage for many weeks now.
Vermont-NEA also noted that a special CWA Local 1400 wish list on amazon.com has been established, and Allen urged union members statewide to help the children of striking workers have presents under the tree this holiday season. The wish list has toys and other items costing less than $25.
To make a donation and to learn more about why Fairpoint workers are on strike, please visit fairnessatfairpoint.com.
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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.
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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.”
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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.
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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."
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”