BRATTLEBORO - The Vermont State Employees Association is asking the Vermont Labor Relations Board to allow the employees in the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs into the statewide labor union.
VSEA has petitioned the Labor Relations Board to allow 155 employees in the department into VSEA, saying there does not appear to be any law preventing them from joining. Employees in the 14 state's attorney's offices include deputy state's attorneys, investigators, victim's advocates and administrative staff.
In the sheriffs' offices, only deputy sheriffs who transport prisoners are paid with state money. All other sheriff employs are paid with county dollars.
VSEA Communications Coordinator Doug Gibson said the labor union was contacted by members of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, and after VSEA staff investigated, there was no clear reason why the employees should not be able to join the union.
"The VSEA is interested in advancing the collective bargaining rights of a group of state employees that have none at the current time," Gibson said According to records filed with the Labor Relations Board, Windsor County Deputy State's Attorney David Cahill started working with VSEA many months ago and has been encouraging other state's attorney's offices to meet with VSEA representatives.
Christina Rainville, a deputy state's attorney in Bennington, says VSEA is making its request to the Labor Relations Board without first gaining the support of the department staff. She is asking the Labor Relations Board to allow her to intervene in the case, stating that she would lose her long-term disability benefits if the employees were eligible to join the union.
Rainville also claims that employees within the sheriff's unit have not been included in the discussions.
In her court filing, Rainville stated she wants the employees in the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs to be able to vote on whether they want to join the union.
James Mongeon, executive director for the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, in his response to the VSEA request, wrote that the employees are hired by the state's attorneys and sheriffs in each county, and the staff members are not employees of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs.
Because they are not considered state employees, Mongeon wrote, they are "not subject to the jurisdiction of the Vermont Labor Board and not eligible to be members of any state employee bargaining unit."
Doug Gibson of VSEA said the labor union was contacted by members of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs.
VSEA Associate General Counsel Abigail Winters said the Department of Human Resources claims there is a law that excludes the sheriff's and the state's attorney's employees from joining the union, but Winters has not yet received a copy of that statute after sending a request to DHR.
Department of Human Resources General Counsel Steve Collier said that while the s tatute does not explicitly preclude the staff members from joining the union, it is clear, he said, that the Labor Relations Board can only rule on state employees.
And the 155 staff members each work under an elected official - each of whom hires his or her own staff - in a separate county. "We don't hire them. We don't fire them. The board only has jurisdiction over state employees," Collier said. "There is no ambiguity. I think it is clear. You can't be a state employee when you work for a county official."
But Winters says the workers do in fact work for the state: They are paid through the state payroll system; they have state e-mail; and their pay and benefits are administered through the Department of Human Resources, Winters said.
"We are asking the labor board to clarify if these workers should be exempt," Winters said. "No other department in state government is in the same boat. So far we have not been able to get any answers that make a lot of sense."
Winters said she expects to receive a ruling from the Labor Relations Board soon.
An attorney representing the sheriffs was unavailable for comment.