Vermont-NEA Campaign 2012: The Issues
Fair Share Fee: Those Who Don't Pay Their Fair Share
Every labor union has a duty, regarding collective bargaining provisions and rights, to represent all employees in a "bargaining unit" without regard to an individual's membership in the union. The fair share fee is the proportion of a union's dues that stems from that "duty of fair representation" (it excludes costs regarding political and most lobbying activities). Current Vermont law requires a union to negotiate with an employer over whether it may assess the fair share fee, even though dues and fees are purely internal union matters. Virtually all private sector employers with unionized employees have agreed to the fee. Virtually all state level employers have done the same. The vast majority of public sector employers in other states that negotiate over it have agreed to the fee. In Vermont, it is only about half of municipal employers and fewer than 20% of school boards that have agreed to the fee. These public employers argue, falsely, that a law requiring an employee to pay the fee would also require the employer to fire employees who refuse to pay it, and they make other arguments the overtly anti-union "National Right to Work Committee" makes. Vermont law does not require anyone to join a union: we would do nothing to change that. Vermont-NEA believes it is long past time for Vermont to stop permitting public employers to stand in the way. It is time for Vermont to have a law, similar to that in other states, requiring employees in a bargaining unit either to join their union or at least pay their fair share of the cost the union is required to incur in representing them.
Teachers' Retirement: Support in the State Budget
In 2010, Vermont-NEA reached an historic agreement with the State protecting the fiscal security of the State Teachers' Retirement System while expanding the benefits to retiring teachers and still saving the State and its taxpayers more than $20 million each and every year. Vermont's teachers agreed to increase their payment to that system to 5% of their salaries and to work longer in order to begin receiving retirement benefits. During the two decades prior to this agreement, the State annually and routinely underfunded the system by millions, sometimes tens of millions, of dollars. The State has met its funding commitment to this system for each of the past 3 years in accordance with its statutory obligation and the agreement. The retirement security of all public servants is a major public policy imperative. Yet, there still are those who believe that public sector employees should see their retirement security eroded to the level of private sector employees (rather than improving what private sector employees receive). Vermont-NEA believes the State must meet its continuing annual funding commitment to the State Teachers' Retirement System.
Health Care: Continuing System Reform
Vermont-NEA has been and remains a leading and effective advocate of health care reform. Over the last four decades, school employees have negotiated with their employers for good health care and have openly sacrificed wage and benefit gains in order to obtain and retain it. In addition, Vermont-NEA and school boards have, since the mid-1990s, saved taxpayers many tens of millions of dollars through reduced insurance premiums in a single statewide insurance group (VEHI) for all active and retired school employees and their families. As the State moves forward with reforming its health care system, it is important to protect school employees, not from reform itself, but from inequitable treatment that could occur if the State does not recognize their past sacrifices in the transition to a new system. Vermont-NEA believes that the state should acknowledge the sacrifices made by active and retired school employees (and other unionized employees) to obtain and retain good health coverage by (1) insulating employees in the transition to the new health care system from potential economic loss and (2) enabling employees to continue to negotiate with their employers regarding matters of health care.
Teaching Career: Retaining New Teachers
Too many teachers new to the profession leave it within a short period. That speaks volumes about the difficulties new teachers face, and it masks untold millions of dollars wasted in preparing young professionals for a career almost half of them abandon in short order. There are proven ways usefully to address this public issue. They include providing each new teacher with professional mentoring for two years at the start of her career, helping with teachers' own student debt, extending the period of required student teaching, limiting the range of non-teaching duties for new teachers, ensuring manageable class sizes for new teachers, and providing useful training for all teachers regarding special needs students. Vermont-NEA believes the most important education policy matter our state faces is to make teaching sufficiently attractive to high caliber young professionals both before entering and during their initial years in their own classrooms, and the State should address this issue by investing in proven ways of helping young professionals.
Teaching Profession: Simplifying Professional Relicensing
Licensing is between the individual and the State: employment is between the individual and her employer. Like every profession, teaching offers state licenses to practitioners and requires them periodically to be renewed. The relicensing process for Vermont teachers, however, is, without question, the most cumbersome, time-consuming, and non-objective process of any profession in Vermont. Teachers report that, more than anything else, it does not well serve the purpose of their professional growth and is a source of discontent by many. In large part, that is because the process itself confuses an individual's qualifications to hold a professional license with how well she is performing in her place of employment. Vermont-NEA believes the relicensing process for teachers should be simplified.