Mark Mitchell, executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association, is leaving at the end of the month. He is moving to Florida to care for his 84-year-old mother who recently became ill.
"I've been gone my entire adult life doing union work around the country," Mitchell said. "I feel like she needs me now."
Mitchell says he is leaving the 5,000 member public sector union which represents state workers and staff workers for the state colleges, at a time when the VSEA is on good footing. Mitchell will stay on through the next VSEA board meeting on June 13 and help the union interview candidates for his position.
Mitchell became executive director in November 2011, three months after floods from Tropical Storm Irene damaged the Waterbury State Office Complex. The 1,200 state employees who worked at the complex were sent to temporary workplaces. The union fought to protect workers who were relocated.
In September 2012, Mitchell proposed a dues increase for members in order to recruit union organizers. Since then, the staff has grown from 19 to 29.
Mitchell helped to negotiate two contracts with the state of Vermont, he bargained a successful contract for workers with the state colleges, and he started an effort to unionize deputy state's attorneys.
Over the course of his two and a half year tenure, Mitchell has taken the union from a service organization in which the staff managed relationships with the Legislature and the governor's office to a member-led union that gives rank and file workers more say.
That shift was controversial, and led to a rift in VSEA management. About a year ago, two VSEA attorneys called for Mitchell's firing. There was an investigation into alleged labor law violations. No wrongdoing was uncovered, and Mitchell was reinstated.
"I can't overstate how much he has done for us," Sheila Coniff, treasurer for the VSEA board, said. "His drive got us all in gear because of his desire to have members be the driving force of the union and we're taking that and we're running with it."