Holding the line against Vermont cuts

Later this month, the 7,000 members of the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA) will vote on a contract that the administration of Gov. Jim Douglas is touting as a "model" for the rest of the country. The "model" cuts deeply into workers' wages and health care benefits without providing a single guarantee against layoffs.

Here, Steve Owens, an elementary school teacher in Calais, Vt., urges VSEA members to hold the line against a contract whose terms spell disaster for working people everywhere.

VERMONT STATE Employees Association members should vote "no" on ratification. The proposed contract for state employees is a disaster for state workers, a disaster for the economy, a disaster for education, and a disaster for all working people in Vermont.

State workers are giving concessions totaling 6.5 percent in lost wages and benefits (not the 3 percent advertised), and are getting nothing in return. The contract does not guarantee against future layoffs. There are zero job protections. The Douglas administration can say "thank you very much" and continue their perverse version of voodoo economics with further layoffs.

How will layoffs and pay cuts help the economy or the state revenue situation? State workers pay taxes and spend money in the local economy. A stable state workforce provides an economic buffer for the rest of us.

As a teacher, I foresee reduction in services that will reduce the effectiveness of schools, as stressed families are less able to support their children's education. The negative effects of the proposed VSEA contract will be felt in schools in the form of behavior problems, hunger, abuse and neglect, with less backup from state agencies. The bad public policy represented by this contract will diminish the value of our communities' education investment.

Working people everywhere will be dragged down by this contract. Whether public sector or private sector, union or non-union, the task of achieving fair settlements and livable wages will be more difficult with the example of this bad contract hanging over us.

State workers don't share in the good times in the form of big settlements and bonuses--why should you be expected to participate when bad policy decisions hurt the economy? It's not your fault! Do yourselves and all the rest of us a big favor and vote "no" on ratification. We're counting on you.