The two-year quest by deputy state prosecutors to join a labor union is growing more contentious. After failing to win recognition as state employees in recent
years, deputies from eight counties filed petitions with the Vermont Labor Relations Board asking to be recognized as county employees — as some state officials have long suggested they are.
But now the Department of State's Attorneys is opposing that request. The state's attorneys have retained a private lawyer to argue that their deputies aren't state or county employees, but rather at-will workers with no right to form a union.
"It's amazing, the firestorm we are seeing right now," said Justin St. James, staff attorney for the Vermont State Employees Association, which is trying to organize the deputies. "There's a lot more anger now. They were told they weren't state employees, they were county employees. And now, [there is] all-out opposition to being county employees."
Department of State's Attorney's Executive Director Bram Kranichfeld, citing the pending labor board decision, declined to comment.
The opposition from the Department of State's Attorneys, the body that represents Vermont's 14 independently elected state's attorneys, is the latest wrinkle in a twisting labor saga.
Deputy state's attorneys, who handle the bulk of criminal cases in Vermont, along with the other support staffers in state's attorneys offices, have long worked in legal limbo.
Though they receive state paychecks, work at state-funded offices and enforce state laws, Vermont does not consider them to be state employees. While they are hired and fired by state's attorneys, it is the state that dictates their pay.
Though the deputies have long been aware of their tenuous place in government, they took action only after they were told in 2012 that, unlike other state employees, they would not be receiving raises.
The deputies and support staffers petitioned the Vermont Labor Relations Board asking to be recognized as state employees, but withdrew the petition in favor of another strategy — asking lawmakers to pass a bill recognizing them as state employees who have a right to unionize. At the time, some Vermont officials opposed to the bill argued that the deputies were, in fact, county employees.
When that bill languished in the statehouse in recent months, the deputies decided to go back to the Labor Board, asking to join VSEA as unionized county employees.
VSEA petitioned on behalf of more than 60 deputy state's attorneys, victims' advocates and administrative staffers from eight counties — Chittenden, Franklin, Essex, Orange, Rutland, Windsor, Addison and Windham. (Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan has agreed to provide voluntary union recognition of the workers in his office, short-circuiting the need for a Labor Board ruling for his employees.)
VSEA spokesman Doug Gibson said the VSEA has also filed a public records request to learn how much money the Department of State's Attorney's is paying a lawyer to oppose the deputies' efforts to unionize.