The Essex Selectboard appeared uninterested in picking sides when asked this week to pass a resolution supporting nurses in their contract fight with the University of Vermont Medical Center.
“If the selectboard and the town were having an issue with their union and management, I would not be too thrilled if some outside party came and tried to get in the middle of it,” Levy said Monday night. “I don’t see it as the selectboard’s fight.”
Tanya Vyhovsky, a Vt. House of Representatives candidate in the Chittenden 8-1 District, raised the issue during Monday night’s meeting, citing a resolution included in the board’s packet signed by a few dozen Essex residents in support of the nurses’ union on the progressive advocacy group Rights & Democracy website.
Vyhovsky asked the board to request a “fair resolution” to the ongoing negotiations between the union and UVMMC.
“I, as a member of this community, want to know that I have safe care that’s being provided by people who are fairly compensated,” Vyhovsky said.
The Burlington City Council passed a resolution last month calling on the two sides to settle their differences, reportedly centered on wages and working conditions. That resolution came a week after the nurses’ union went on strike for two days in a protest that spread throughout Chittenden County, including here in Essex.
But selectmen Michael Plageman agreed the fight is not theirs and doubled down on Levy’s stance.
“The selectboard interjecting themselves into labor negotiations is totally inappropriate,” he said, “even if it’s just a resolution.” He added he wouldn’t support putting the topic on a future agenda item.
At least one resident agreed with them.
Renee Dahl, a practice supervisor at UVMMC who spent 11 years as a nurse recruiter, recounted a “long, hard and sad summer” due to the labor negotiations.
“It’s clear that there’s a divide going on and a lack of trust,” Dahl said. “My community telling me that I am the enemy of the nurses and I don’t support the nurses by passing this resolution does nothing but deepen the divide.”
She said the resolution included in the board’s packet was riddled with inaccuracies and half-truths and asked the board to not “insert itself” into the dispute.
Selectman Andy Watts took no stance in the matter but felt it was the board’s duty to at least put topics on the agenda when asked by the public.
“I’m just trying to be fair with how we try to establish our agendas,” Watts said.
Levy felt the board shouldn’t put the item on an agenda unless a member of the public asks for it, which he hadn’t heard.
“I haven’t heard that either,” Watts said. “But I’d also like to make sure we check our policy.”
Selectboard policy states anyone can request an item be added to the agenda by informing the town manager’s office four business days prior to the meeting date if it isn’t an old business item or one the board has already tabled.
The board next meets September 10.