Shumlin, Union Agree To Tentative Contract
12/09/11 5:50PM By John Dillon  Download MP3
(Host) The Shumlin administration and the state employees union have agreed to a tentative two-year contract that restores a previous pay cut and grants moderate pay increases next year.
The agreement was reached without bringing in an outside mediator. And both sides said the deal marked a change in tone between the union and state government.
VPR's John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) Governor Peter Shumlin and the state employees' union had some rocky exchanges earlier this year. At one point the governor called some union members "greedy" because they said their contract entitled them to double pay in the weeks following Tropical Storm Irene.
But the two sides appear to have repaired any damage and have reached a tentative contract agreement they both say is fair.
John Reese is the newly elected VSEA president. He says it's the first time in two decades that a contract was settled without fact-finding or an outside mediator.
(Reese) "The governor told us early on that he was really interested in making sure that state employees were respected and he would deal with us in a respectful manner and be genuine in our discussions and I believe that he stepped up to the plate. His bargaining team did better than what I expected in the manner that they dealt with our folks."
(Dillon) The deal calls for state employees to receive a 2 percent wage increase in July 2012 and an additional 2 percent the following year. The administration also agreed to restore a 3 percent pay cut that state employees accepted to help balance the state budget.
(Reese) "The fact of the matter is that state employees for the last two years have given up 3 percent of our pay with a freeze in our wages. So to look at the restoration of that in light of the 2 percent next year and 2 percent the following year I think is more than fair."
(Dillon) Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says the deal is good for taxpayers as well. He says the state avoided the time and expense of a lengthy bargaining process.
(Spaulding) "And both sides had been talking since summer informally that if we can avoid the he-said she-said rancor of going all the way through mediation, fact-finding, arbitration, that we should try to do that to improve the morale of our employees and keep focused on providing effective services at a reasonable cost."
(Dillon) According to Spaulding, the new contract will add an additional $7.7 million to the state budget with $5 million of the increase coming from the restoration of the pay cut.
He says the 2 percent wage increase is actually less than the projected rate of inflation.
(Spaulding) "So the fact that we were able to reach agreement where we thought we were going to end up anyway without going through the rancor in a way that is in line with other settlements that we've seen here in Vermont and out of state is something I think will work well for everybody."
(Dillon) For its part, the union agreed to give up a Columbus Day holiday. Workers enrolled in one of the state's health plans will also have to pay $5 more for office visits.
The agreement still must be ratified by the union. The VSEA says the contract will be put to a vote within the next month or so.
For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.