Tentative Contract for Vermont Home Care Workers Garners National Media Attention 06/02/2014

The landmark tentative agreement recently reached between AFSCME Council 93 Local 4802 and the State of Vermont was recently the subject of a Bloomberg BNA Daily Labor Report.  The report is read every day by thousands of the nation’s foremost union leaders, labor and employment attorneys, legislators, business executives and government officials.  It provides reliable, analytical coverage of key labor legislation, court decisions, regulatory actions, administrative rulings, and collective bargaining news.  The Bloomberg coverage of the historic tentative agreement is below:

Health Care Employees
Vermont, Home Care Workers Union
Negotiate First Contract for 7,500
By Adrianne Appel
Daily Labor Report
May 29, 2014

May 29 – Vermont and the newly organized Vermont Home Care United union have reached a tentative contract that includes wage increases to bring about 7,500 home care workers above the state's minimum wage along with plans for professional training for the employees.

The tentative, two-year agreement was reached May 2 between Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and union officials, following negotiations that began Dec. 23, 2013.

Voting by union members to ratify the agreement is under way and the votes are expected to be counted by June 2, Jim Durkin, a spokesman for the union, told Bloomberg BNA May 28. If ratified, the contract would be the first between the state and the VHCU, which is Local 4802 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Home care workers provide care to elderly individuals and others in their homes and, through contracting companies     and agencies, have been paid by the state to do so.

“What we discovered in negotiations and information provided by the state is that some people were making well below the minimum wage,’’ Mark Bernard, special assistant to the director of AFSCME Council 93, told Bloomberg BNA May 28. A key goal of negotiations was to bring all workers above minimum wage, Bernard said.

Wage Increases Vary

The agreement, which would run from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2016, would increase the wages of those earning less than the state minimum wage of $10.50 an hour, to $10.80 an hour starting July 1, Bernard said.

Those who earn more than $10.80 an hour would receive a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment starting July 1. Workers who earn close to but under $10.80 an hour would receive either the 2.5 percent increase or the wage increase to $10.80 an hour, whichever would result in a greater increase.

About 65 percent of workers who would be covered by the agreement would benefit from the wage increase to $10.80, and 35 percent would be expected to receive the 2.5 percent increase, Bernard said.

The agreement also addresses wages for overnight and extended respite care. The agreement would mandate that workers get paid at least $150 per overnight shift.

Also under the contract, the union would open talks with the state about the need for workers to be paid in a timely fashion by the company the state contracts with to coordinate home care services in Vermont.

“Our members have had evictions and foreclosures as a result of slow payments. That is of great concern to us,’’ Bernard said. The agreement would give workers the right to access the state's grievance system if they aren't paid or paid at the proper rate. “This is a big victory,’’ he said.

The agreement calls for a “wage re-opener’’ in which both parties would sit down in September 2014 and negotiate wages for the second year of the contract, Bernard said.

Better Training for Workforce

The agreement also calls for professional training for workers in such skills as first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to properly lift a patient, Bernard said.

“These people are not trained professionals and they are not licensed,’’ he said. The workers would benefit from training and so would the families they serve, Bernard said.

When the tentative agreement was reached, the Vermont Legislature was in the final stages of negotiating its fiscal year 2015 budget.

The governor asked legislators to add $2.5 million to the budget to cover the cost of the agreement with home care workers, and to find the money to pay for it. Lawmakers agreed.

“We've had strong support from the governor and the legislature,’’ Durkin said.

Vermont home care workers were granted the right to organize in May 2013. The AFSCME local and a second union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union battled to represent the workers until the SEIU local withdrew from the representation election.