Hundreds of teachers, allies protest Scott's health care plan

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A few hundred Vermont teachers protested in front of the Statehouse on Wednesday against Gov. Phil Scott's proposal to negotiate their health care contracts at the state level.

They called Scott's plan, which he has said could lower property taxes by $26 million, a political ploy to violate their collective bargaining rights. They accused Scott of union busting.

The Vermont-NEA teachers union organized the protest. The powerful AFL-CIO, a national group that serves as a resource for labor unions, stood by the teachers' side. So did the Vermont Democratic Party; Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat; and a handful of Democratic lawmakers.

"Clearly, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the governor and (Vermont School Boards Association) sought has nothing to do with savings on property taxes," said Martha Allen, the president of the Vermont-NEA.

The school board association has allied with Scott on the idea of a statewide teacher health care contract. The group also pushed back on a proposal Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe introduced Friday that he said would save money while maintaining local collective bargaining.

"The governor and his allies see this issue as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take power away from working people in this state, and in particular, to take power away from working women," Allen said.

Jill Charbonneau, from the AFL-CIO, pointed to Scott's rejection of Ashe's proposal, which would have reduced property tax rates by 3 cents.

"It turns out reducing property tax rates is just rhetoric for the campaign trail but did not pass muster with Scott Walker's style of union busting ," Charbonneau said, referring to the Wisconsin governor who passed sweeping laws limiting the bargaining power of that state's labor unions.

"The Vermont labor community will not go silently in the night," Charbonneau added.

Erin Carter, a math teacher at Spaulding High School in Barre, said she works with kindergarten teachers to negotiate contracts with the local school board.

"I do not push the school board around," Carter said. "Coming to the table well-prepared is not a bullying tactic."

Carter said she also does not push the school board around when she negotiates on behalf of para-educators — support staff who often work with students with special needs. She said they make $11.10 an hour.

Conor Casey, the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, held up a sign linking Scott to the Wisconsin governor.

Casey's sign said: "Governor Scott Walker?"

Allen also compared Scott to Walker on Tuesday.

At a news conference earlier Wednesday, Scott responded to those comments. Scott said he understands the concerns of teachers but disagrees with the comparison.

"I think it's a stretch," Scott said. "It's more rhetoric. It maybe sounds good to members and all that, but I hardly think I can be compared to Scott Walker."

Scott said he would be willing to put the statewide bargaining into place for two years to "re-base" the cost of teacher health care and then go back to the same local bargaining that has been in place in the past.

Legislative leaders nonetheless declared an impasse Wednesday afternoon in negotiations with Scott.

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