STATEMENT: Justice For VSEA Leader John Howe

Vermont Workers' Center statement in support of VSEA Member and Whistleblower John Howe

The Vermont Workers’ Center calls on the State of Vermont to stop its retaliatory investigation of VSEA member John Howe. Whistleblowers who speak out for the public good must be encouraged, not harassed.

John Howe is facing retaliation for bringing public attention to Vermont ‘s outsourcing of its public good social services to a for-profit contractor. This is the sort of “canary-in-the-coal-mine” situation which has prompted federal protections for whistleblowers, and which allows those in positions of public service to bring abuses to the attention of the people they serve. John Howe has been a Counselor with the State’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for 18 years, providing critical services for some of Vermont’s most vulnerable residents. His job is to protect and serve those residents.

Howe did nothing more than perform his civic duty--on his own time--to testify to lawmakers in January 2014. He did this to bring to their attention the expensive and excessive dependence of his agency on a for-profit contractor called VABIR (Vermont Association of Business Industry and Rehabilitation). He gave lawmakers details as to the very low wages VABIR paid its employees. He was concerned about the high turnover experienced in the VABIR workforce. That high turnover, he testified, hurts his agency’s ability to build long-term, meaningful relationships with clients using critical Vermont public services.

After his testimony, management of his Agency began to retaliate against him for calling public attention to a situation that adversely impacted very vulnerable residents of Vermont. The Agency called him in for supervisory review--this despite the fact that only a few months earlier he had been reviewed and received a positive and glowing evaluation. Then Howe got a letter on March 28 placing him on 30-day paid administrative leave pending an “investigation.” That “investigation” was all about John letting a VABIR employee use his cell phone. At the same time, John was reassigned to an office which was clearly a demotion - eliminating his normal sized office and moving him into a closet sized location. All of this was done only AFTER John was honest and forthright with legislators about his concerns for the clients he served. Those clients are approximately 250 very vulnerable people that may not be able to receive the services to which they are entitled.

John has garnered much support from his fellow union members and as well as others in Vermont who are concerned about those of our residents who are the most vulnerable. Only hours after a facebook page went up called “Justice for John Howe,” he received a letter from management allowing him to return to work. The “investigation,” however, continues. We must ask ourselves who should really be investigated. The whistleblower, or the company which abuses rights of the most vulnerable?

Please stand in solidarity with VSEA leader and state employee John Howe, as he continues his fight for justice.

Call on the State of Vermont to stop its frivolous investigation of John Howe and to work hard to end harassment and retaliation against him.

The Vermont Workers’ Center supports the right of every working person to do their civic and moral duty and to bring to light abuses of people and of the State’s resources. We must be free to testify openly about what is believed to be waste, fraud or corruption. This right and duty is inherent in the democracy that Vermont has so proudly defended throughout history. Retaliation against anyone in our State and BY our State dishonors the rights our ancestors fought to protect.

Send statements to DGibson@VSEA.ORG to be forwarded to Gov. Shumlin and to Secretary of the Agency of Administration Jeb Spaulding and to be featured in the Justice for John Howe campaign on Facebook.