Looks like somebody at our state’s second-largest labor union had a sudden revelation. Because after several days of bringing public disrepute on themselves, the board of the Vermont State Employees Association took a step back from the brink, and figured out a way forward that won’t involve everybody looking like selfish idiots.

It all began, as I’m sure you know, last Wednesday, when a majority of the Board voted to fire VSEA Executive Director Mark Mitchell. The vote came after a seven-hour marathon meeting kicked off by two union lawyers accusing Mitchell of violating labor laws.

Adding fuel to the fire were trustees who support Mitchell. They went public with their side of the dispute. Which led anti-Mitchell trustees to fire back. Oh, and Mitchell himself sought counsel with an employment attorney, which carries the implicit threat of a wrongful-firing lawsuit. In other words, a big ol’ circular firing squad.

All this, of course, without regard to the harm that might be done to the union, its members, the liberal cause in Vermont, and the broader labor movement.  I mean, it’s hard enough, in this Koch-addled, clusterFoxed country of ours, to support organizing rights, without VSEA making a public spectacle of itself.

Today’s developments, for those just joining us: the VSEA board held an emergency meeting and voted to (1) reinstate Mitchell, (2) put him on paid leave, and (3) arrange for an investigation of the allegations against Mitchell.

I do hope the apparent perestroika holds.  

 VSEA doesn’t need any internal divisions when it’s about to launch new contract talks with the state. And public sector unions in general don’t need this kind of negative publicity when they’re already under siege.  

I don’t know who was right and who was wrong about Mitchell. All I know is that just about everyone acted poorly, rashly, with no apparent concern for the damage being done. The union lawyers and last Wednesday’s majority covered themselves in the opposite of glory by hearing the charges against Mitchell and firing him, all in the same day. It reeks, not of considered judgment, but of a putsch.

As for Board President John Reese and other Mitchell supporters, they went public with the whole mess, which is precisely what they shouldn’t have done.

Today’s news is welcome, but there’s a long way to go to repair the damage and get the union as unified as possible heading into contract talks. With or without Mitchell, they’d better be ready.  

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