Charlotte town employees look to unionize

Municipal employees in Charlotte may soon have a union. A publicly posted petition at the town hall proposes a new collective bargaining unit consisting of 10 “non-management/non-supervisory” workers, represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The Charlotte Selectboard discussed the matter with an attorney during an executive session on June 10. It resumed its public meeting without taking any action.

The Vermont Labor Relations Board certifies public-sector unions. AFSCME Council 93 requested an election in Charlotte on the basis that, as of March 22, a majority of the workers in the proposed unit had submitted signed authorization cards.

Starting on July 1, however, a new state law will allow Vermont’s public sector to unionize more quickly and easily, using a process known popularly as “card check.” Under Act 117, the Vermont Labor Relations Board will have the ability to certify a union based on workers’ signatures alone, without subsequently conducting an election. Charlotte’s employees appear already to have satisfied the updated requirements.

The town planner, the zoning administrator, the planning and zoning assistant, the assistant town clerk, the volunteer coordinator at the Charlotte Senior Center, and five staffers at the Charlotte Library would comprise the bargaining unit.

An organized workforce could potentially constrain local officials’ recent efforts to cut spending on labor. Since the voters’ rejection of the initial municipal budget proposal at Town Meeting Day last year, the employee health plan has come under particular scrutiny.

At the last selectboard meeting, Kelly Devine and Lewis Mudge mentioned that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont had pitched a new benefits package for town employees. They’ve scheduled a conversation with a representative from the insurer.

“We were definitely looking to reduce the number of options of plans that are offered to streamline things administratively,” Devine said.

“The savings is not necessarily going to come from the plan switch, although it will, but it will also come from the costs and the ratio of costs that are paid for by employees in the town as well,” Mudge added. “We will be presenting this to the town employees, and then we will have an open discussion about it.”

Office coming to 251 Ferry Road
A local businessman wants to turn a dilapidated four-bedroom home in the West Village just west of the post office into an office building for 15 employees. On June 10, the Charlotte Selectboard approved a preliminary wastewater application for the development.

The house previously used a private septic tank, buried beneath a portion of the property that the developer intends now to begin using — incompatibly, per state regulations — as a parking lot. According to a civil engineer, the proximity of protected wetlands and of neighboring wells rule out other locations for the placement of a new on-site wastewater system, necessitating a connection to Charlotte’s public sewer.

Mike Dunbar purchased 251 Ferry Road in 2022. The president of Middlebury Fence, he also owns Charlotte Crossings, a commercial building on Route 7. A previous effort to convert the long-abandoned residential site failed three years ago when, amid opposition from townspeople and self-reported financial strain, the Charlotte Family Health Center gave up on a plan to relocate there.