SUMMARY OF AFSCME LAWSUIT AGAINST THE HOWARDCENTER
• In May of 2013, the Vermont Legislature passed a law giving a 3% funding increase to Medicaid providers, including the HowardCenter. The law required providers “to provide a commensurate increase in compensation for direct care workers.” In other words, direct care workers were supposed to get a 3% wage increase as of November 2013, when the state funds became available.
• While virtually all other providers gave that 3% wage increase to direct care staff, the HowardCenter refused. Instead HowardCenter management argued that it could cut the increase to 1.4% by crediting a previously negotiated pay increase of 1.6%. In the end, HowardCenter has simply kept the entire 3% increase for itself.
• HowardCenter’s argument fails because the law had nothing to do with the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The CBA was negotiated at the bargaining table over a year prior to passage of the law. The legislature mandated and paid for the increase for all direct care workers, whether or not they had a CBA.
• As a result, AFSCME filed suit on March 7, 2014 in Chittenden Superior Court seeking to enforce the law and force the Howard Center to pay the 3% wage increase.
• On April 7, Howard Center “removed” the case to federal court, claiming the case was preempted and barred by federal law because, HowardCenter argued, the case called for the interpretation of the CBA. “Removed,” is a legal term, which means moving the case to another court. The Howard Center also asked the federal court to dismiss the case.
• However, on August 27, 2104 United States District Court Judge William K. Sessions III issued a 27-page decision that was strongly in AFSCME’s favor. Judge Sessions denied the Howard Center’s motion to dismiss AFSCME’s lawsuit and sent the case back to state court.
• The HowardCenter is trying to appeal this decision to the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City. As of October 8, 2014, we are awaiting a decision from Judge Sessions on the request to appeal. We are hoping soon to make our case in state court, where the case started and still belongs.