State Workers' Union Wants Double Pay For Some Members

10/04/11 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP/Toby Talbot
Heavy equipment worked to clean up some of the debris and silt from the Waterbury State Office Complex in September after Tropical Storm Irene.

(Host)  The Vermont state employees union says at least 100 state workers displaced by the recent floods are entitled to double wages.

As VPR's John Dillon reports, the move sets up a fight between the union and the Shumlin administration.

(Dillon) The double-pay issue first came up after the storm flooded the state office complex in Waterbury, displacing about 15-hundred workers.

The union says that under the terms of its contract, the state must formally re-assign the employees to another workplace. If the state fails to issue that formal notice, the union says those workers must receive double-time wages.

Michael Casey is the general counsel for the Vermont State Employees Association.

(Casey) "If employees are required to work during an emergency closing without the state officially re-locating them in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, then the employees are entitled to additional compensation."

(Dillon) About three-quarters of the Waterbury work force were given written notice and have been relocated. But the union filed a grievance last week seeking the double pay for about 100 employees who did not get the notice that the union says they deserve.

The grievance - which was first reported by VtDigger.org - says more workers may be added to the list.

The legal action ends what had been a harmonious relationship between the union and the administration. Casey says that immediately following the floods, the union and the administration worked closely together to provide essential services. He says he was shocked when the state asked the union to waive the double time provision.

(Casey) "Our members worked over and above the call of duty. They worked in accordance with the direction they were given by the employer. And we believe that when someone enters into a collective bargaining agreement as with any contract you can't ignore it if you don't like it."

(Dillon) That's not the way Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding sees it.

(Spaulding) "Well, I think it's trying to defend an indefensible position by confusing the situation."

(Dillon) Spaulding says it's disingenuous for the union to insist on formal re-location notices for 15-hundred workers, when the state didn't know for weeks where it would send them.

Spaulding says only employees who were called out during the emergency - defined by the governor as the day after the storm - are entitled to double-time pay.

(Spaulding) "After that, the emergency was over and we had an administrative issue that we had to deal with. And there were state employees that were working in buildings together - some of them were normally stationed in Waterbury and some of them perhaps in Montpelier. And now they're working side by side. The idea that some of those employees would be paid double time and the others regular time makes absolutely no sense and is an insult to employees and the taxpayers."

(Dillon) Spaulding suggests the union could lose in the court of public opinion. He says the extra pay could cost millions of dollars, depending on the number of workers covered and the pay periods involved.

(Spaulding) "Unfortunately, this grievance really tends to paint state employees in a bad light. Most of them have been working extremely hard to help us recover to Irene."

(Dillon) But Casey from the union says he's not focused on the political fall-out. He says only the full membership of the union can change the contract provisions.  

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier

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