Employees’ union at odds with administration over contract negotiations

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(Host) Next week, the state Labor Relations Board will hear an unusual dispute between the Douglas administration and the state employees’ union. The administration wants to punish the union for protesting potential cuts in prescription drug benefits.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The union held a rally last week in Montpelier and warned that state retirees could see their prescription drug benefits cut in next year’s contract.

The administration says that a mailing that the union sent out before the rally violated a secrecy agreement order on the ongoing contract negotiations. It’s filed a complaint with the state labor relations board. Cynthia LaWare is state personnel commissioner.

(Laware) “If the union wants to hold rallies in support of their broad positions and things of that nature without getting into the specifics of any contract proposals, that’s fine. But what we’re trying to do is keep the proposals from being bargained in the media.”

(Dillon) Union President Ed Stanak says the two sides have agreed to ground rules that limit what they can say publicly about the contract talks. But he says the rules allow the union to communicate in general terms with members about the contract. According to Stanak, the union gave the state 24 hour notice of its mailing, as the ground rules required.

(Stanak) “We reject the state’s position. We think what we did was proper and right because the retirees are going to be significantly affected by the state’s offer. For us, this is about a fair contract and dignity for people who are retired and have an expectation of a quality of life.”

(Dillon) A change in the state contract on prescription drugs also affects retirees covered under the contract. Stanak says he’s prohibited from discussing details of the state’s proposal. The Vermont Labor Relations Board will hear the state’s complaint next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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