Governor, teachers union tussle over health insurance change

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Governor, teachers union tussle over health insurance change

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 4:24pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Governor Phil Scott's office and the teacher's union are exchanging heated words over how to hold down school spending by reducing health insurance costs. The governor wants the teachers to collectively negotiate with the state over health insurance plans, while the teachers union insists on maintaining that health plans be dealt with locally. Both sides agree that health insurance premium increases have been a major driver of school budget increases. Generally, local school boards and the union (Vermont National Education Association) have had tough negotiating sessions over increasing the share teachers pay in premiums, in order to mitigate the hike in health care costs.

Governor Scott’s Communications Director Rebecca Kelley today issued the following statement in response to the NEA's opposition to what the governor calls an opportunity to provide Vermonters with millions in property tax relief without reducing teacher benefits: “Governor Phil Scott has been working with the Vermont School Boards Association and Vermont Superintendents Association to evaluate a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure teachers do not pay more for healthcare, while also generating up to $26 million in annual savings for property taxpayers through new Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) health plans.  It would be a win for taxpayers, a win for teachers and a win for our education system as a whole.

“Yet, unfortunately, the Vermont NEA walked away from what was intended to be a positive and collaborative discussion convened by Governor Scott with an apparent unwillingness to even consider this discussion.

“The Vermont NEA’s position is particularly perplexing considering that in 2015 and 2016 the it opposed cost containment measures in the Act 46 education reforms by saying, ‘the inexorable growth in health care costs’ as the ‘root’ of any excess growth in school budgets.

“Given the significant economic and affordability challenges Vermonters are facing – as we continue to lose six people from our workforce, three students from our schools and see nearly one baby born exposed to drugs every single day – Governor Scott is unwilling to pass up an opportunity to find millions of dollars in savings to invest in early care and learning, support our state college system, or provide much-needed property tax relief to Vermonters.

“The Governor hopes the legislature look seriously at this proposal, despite the NEA’s response.”

In that response, the Vermont NEA said that Scott's proposal, supported by the Vermont School Boards Association, would "force local school boards and local teachers to give up their ability to negotiate with each other over health insurance" and "is an anti-union intrusion into collective bargaining."

The state’s largest union said in its statement that it agrees with the Democratic leadership in saying this proposal to force teachers to negotiate over health insurance directly with the state "should be rejected out-of-hand by the General Assembly."

Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president, said in a statement Thursday:

“This assault on collective bargaining is straight out of the Donald Trump and Scott Walker anti-union playbook. It will end up hampering the ability of local school boards and local educators to do what's best for their schools and children. The state does not employ teachers in Vermont – locally elected and accountable school boards do.

“The half-century of collective bargaining in Vermont shows that local give and take works. Indeed, contrary to the anti-union proposals of the VSBA and the governor, settlements reached in communities across Vermont show that the system works. Already, a handful of local school boards have settled multi-year contracts with their local associations that balance the needs of students, communities, and teachers while producing savings for local taxpayers.

“It's too bad the VSBA and the governor have so little faith in local school boards to do what's best for their communities that they want to grab power and impose a Montpelier-based solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Unfortunately, the VSBA has done its best to dismantle the Vermont Education Health Initiative in the last year. In so doing, the VSBA has jeopardized VEHI’s two-decade track record in producing millions of dollars a year of savings to our local communities.

“We expect better from the VSBA, and we expect better from the governor, who pledged during the campaign to respect collective bargaining rights. 

“This proposal runs counter to the governor’s campaign promise, and would put Vermont in the company of anti-worker states. While we are disappointed that the governor and VSBA would introduce this proposal, we are grateful to Democratic leaders who agree with us and have pledged to reject this gross intrusion into the collective bargaining rights of the women and men who educate our children.”

RELATED: Governor: Proposal would save up to $26 million

Sources: Governor. VT-NEA. 4.20.2017