Is VSEA crazy?

If you read today's article in VtDigger you know that the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA) has confirmed that they are talking to Vince Illuzzi to take over the job as legislative affairs director. The job is available because Cassandra Gekas, who had confirmed just before the election that she had been offered the job, has decided not to take it.

The question I have to ask about this story is a simple one: are they crazy?

We know that Illuzzi has had good relations with organized labor, and over the years he has run for office with the endorsement, if not the active support, of some of Vermont's biggest unions. Still, if VSEA thinks that Vince Illuzzi is a friend to Vermont's working people they're kidding themselves.

I'll just talk about one chapter in recent history. In 2010 Vermont's unemployment compensation trust fund was in trouble, closing in on a zero balance. This wasn't surprising, since the economy had collapsed,, Vermont, like the rest of the country, was experiencing high unemployent, so many more people were drawing on the fund.

In addition, for decades Vermont law had systematically underfunded the system with artificially low caps on payroll levels subject to the unemployment tax. In other words, Vermont businesses had received the benefit of having their employees covered by the unemployment system but had not had to pay taxes at levels needed to sustain the system. We had undercollected from employers, and that led directly to the fund balance shortages in 2009-10.

There had to be a legislative solution, and advocates for unions, unemployed people, and employers spent hours at the State House trying to work out a solution. The advocates for the unemployed had to fight hard to limit attacks on benefit levels, expansion of disqualifications, and other anti-worker proposals.

What did Vince Illuzzi propose?

For one thing, he proposed $22 million in new taxes on Vermont's workers. As Peter Hirschfeld reported in Vermont Today:

 A proposal under consideration in the Senate would raise up to $22 million annually by assessing a new tax on the vast majority of working residents. The new revenue, Senate lawmakers say, could allow the state to rescue the bankrupt fund without cutting the benefits of out-of-work Vermonters. The additional money, according to Sen. Vince Illuzzi, would also tamp down the tax increases on businesses that will be needed to return the fund to solvency.

You got that, right? Illuzzi's proposal was to raise taxes on workers specifically in order to avoid raising taxes on businesses. This tax was such an extreme measure that even the anti-worker Douglas administration would not support it.

 For another thing, the bill that Illuzzi introduced, S. 290 (technically it was a committee bill, but it was a bill from the committee he chaired) included other anti-worker provisions. His proposal, which became law, was to slash unemployment benefits by imposing a one-week waiting period on benefits for newly eligible workers. While couched as merely a delay and not a cut, since most workers don't exhaust their benefits the waiting period actually reduces the total benefits they receive by one week's worth.

His bill also included harsher treatment for workers who are disqualified for benefits because they were fired for misconduct in connection with their employment.

The cuts and other program changes would have saved money by cutting benefits to unemployed workers by $100 million. 

Fortunately, Democrats were able to limit, roll back, or sunset some of the worst provisions of Illuzzi's bill. The bill would have been a lot worse, and specifically a lot worse for workers, if Illuzzi had gotten his way.

There are plenty of organizations in the State House who hire lobbyists without regard to ideology. To a degree, if you know your way around the building and do your homework you can do a job even for a client you don't really agree with. Traditionally, though, unions rely on union people to represent them in the building; it's seen as more than a job.

While Illuzzi has a reputation of being a determined fighter for the things he really wants, is there any reason to think that he is committed to the cause of workers in Vermont? 

20 thoughts on “Is VSEA crazy?

  1. On a very practical level, Illuzzi would take the job on a part-time basis so he could stay on as Essex County State’s Attorney. How’s he going to balance those two obligations? What’s he going to do when he has a big trial or three during a legislative session? Doesn’t VSEA need a full-time advocate?

    Also, during the campaign Illuzzi was depicted as some sort of ideal politician, universally loved by all around him. Or, in Jon Margolis’ very unfortunate words, “Illuzzi radiates optimism and charm.” (Blech.) Problem is, he’s also known for having a temper and holding a grudge. He has a checkered past, and that would hurt his ability to represent VSEA’s interests.

  2. Crazy is definitely the word for it.

    There is something decidedly schizophrenic about a short list that has been narrowed down to Cass Gekas or Vince Illuzzi!!

  3. Mitt Romney meeting with Obama.  Illuzzi offered a job with VSEA.  What is this?  Adopt a Republican week?  Isn’t there a job for poor old Donald Trump somewhere in this?  

    Hey, I guess Republicans are now HIP.  ANTI-HEROES.  There will be rock groups.  Republican T-Shirts with BORN TO LOSE on them.  A Republican Motorcycle Gang.  A fucking movie with Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Robert Mitchum lookalikes called A Republican Without A Cause.  Mitt Romney starring in a remake of The Call Of The Wild.  Jack Nicholson playing Ronald Reagan in Easy Rider Contra.

    Yes, I think we are seeing the beginning of a new genre–Republican Noir.  Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Ann Coulter as femme fatales. Tax Me Deadly, Double Exemption, The Big Loophole, Cool Hand Don, Farewell, My Bailout.

    Shit, wait til the fashions come out.  Your 15 year old boy in a three piece suit.  Your 15 year-old daughter in a cocktail dress.  Bastard.  What kind of drugs are we going to be looking at?  Those fuckers.  Next they’ll be marching in the streets singing I Ain’t A Payin’ Taxes Anymore.

    This is insidious.  And our National Guards are all in Afghanistan.  Who will stop this FREE LOVE THE RICH movement before we see them running about naked passing around rolled up thousand dollar bills filled with Tea?  Where’s Nixon when you really need him?  Oh, the humanity!

  4. Can you think of a decision the once progressive union has made recently that isn’t backwards?   Hoffer replaced by Vince in this election season?  Mass staff exodus?  Stepping on the toes of the governor and legislators?

    Hiring a prominent Republican to lobby a dominantly non Republican majority really fits into that decision making mindset.  

    Which cliff is the bus driving over next?  

  5. I’ve been scratching my head with the direction that VSEA is going for the past year.  It appears that the Board is asleep at the wheel while the new director only cares about covering his own hide at any cost.  The staff exodus didn’t happen because of a manifestation of a new direction to organizing the union.  Clearly, you are not in tune with VSEA’s long-term strategy.  VSEA has been working on exactly the organizing plan that the new director purports to have initiated for years.  The problem is, time and time again, the membership at-large (who, incidentally, does not make up the group who consider themselves to be vsea “activists”) has shown that they prefer a service model.  And with the current make-up of the VSEA Board, your average state employee is not going to be motivated to become active within the union as it currently stands.  Senior staff left because the Board picked a new director who came to VT and began making poor choices for the members long-term interests, treated his staff horribly and made immediate enemies with the Administrative & Legislative branches of government. It’s truly ironic that the staff of a union, of all organizations, would fail so miserably in standing up in solidarity for each other.  The whole process that has been reported for this Lobbyist job has proven to be one big debacle, and indicative of the union’s poor ability to function.  

    Here’s an idea, why don’t you poll the new staff, who recently stepped up to fill the vacancies how they feel about the Illuzzi appointment.  I bet I know the answer. Good luck VSEA! This is pure entertainment for those of us watching.  And yes, VSEA is officially crazy.  

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