Story and video: Ben & Jerry scoop for paid sick leave, minimum wage increase

Activists, legislators and ice cream magnates Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield gathered in the Statehouse on Tuesday afternoon to call on Vermont lawmakers to pass paid sick leave and minimum wage legislation.

The media event followed a half-hour ice cream social at which the Ben & Jerry’s founders scooped up Americone Dream. It also came on the heels of reports that House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, won’t bring the paid sick days bill to the House floor for a vote, despite his support for the mandate.

Political observers have speculated that both instituting paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage is not politically feasible this session.

The skepticism is fueled by the wake of mammoth changes to health insurance, with still more to come as Gov. Peter Shumlin leverages capital to finance the nation’s first single-payer health care system.

Shumlin has favored raising the state’s minimum wage over three years to $10.10 per hour from its current $8.73 per hour. It’s the same boost President Barack Obama is calling for nationally.

Several speakers at Tuesday’s event, organized by the Vermont Workers’ Center, said the paid sick days initiative is not a pawn in negotiations for a higher minimum wage.

“A minimum wage increase cannot be pitted against paid sick days,” said Ashley Moore, a Workers’ Center member and restaurant employee currently working without the benefit of paid sick days. “It’s non-negotiable.”

Activists gather at the Statehouse for a news conference sponsored by Ben & Jerry's to push for paid sick leave laws and a minimum wage raise. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Activists gather at the Statehouse for a news conference sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s to push for paid sick leave laws and a minimum wage raise. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Cohen struck a stronger note.

“When we allow corporations to pay poverty wages and the state makes up the difference, I think it’s criminal,” Cohen said. “I think it should be criminal. And I think the Vermont Legislature has the power to overturn that injustice.”

A spokesman for one of the two organizations leading opposition to both bills, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Vermont, was surprised by the tenor of Cohen’s comment.

AIV vice president William Driscoll said he didn’t think the rhetoric helped further the conversation. Chamber lobbyist Jessica Gingras didn’t immediately offer a response.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, said paying a higher wage would be difficult for him and his wife, who operate a small farm with about a dozen employees in the growing season. But implementing the change statewide makes the prospect more tenable, he said, because it will “level the playing field” among business competitors.

A public hearing on the minimum wage increase is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday evening at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Members of the public interested in testifying may sign up starting at 5:30.

Hilary Niles


  1. Dave Bellini :

    It’s time for the Governor to end the temporary correctional officer charade. Vermont is the only state to staff its state prisons with temporary correctional officers. These officers are NOT SEASONAL workers. They are NOT fill in workers. They work 40 hours per week 52 weeks per year until they are given permanent status. Some work full time as temps for years. They receive no benefits whatsoever. We have an extra 10 million for junkies. We provide 100% medical for murderers and child molesters. Tax payers foot the bill for criminals rent when they get out of prison. There’s plenty of money for crooks.

  2. Wayne Andrews :

    I can see these liberals can save their signs for the next go around. All they would need to do is take the letter “i” out of the first word in the signs and it will read Pad Sick Days.

  3. Paul Richards :

    How about letting the employers decide what benefits to offer their employees rather than have the government dictate how they should run their businesses? We have way bigger problems that we should be spending our time on other than this. This is just another diversion from reality. Another media frenzy about who is getting what and who is not and what is “fair” and what is not fair. Get real and stop wasting time trying to legislate personal agendas. At the end of the day we will all pay for this. It’s not for free. It’s embarrassing that our legislators, who are supposed to be the smartest people in the room can’t see the issue beyond the end of their noses.

    • Robert Johnston :

      If the employers got to decide what to offer their employees, we would all be making $4/hr, working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, with no benefits, no vacation time, etc.

      • Paul Richards :

        Right, that’s why almost all of them pay more than the minimum wage and provide benefits way beyond what is required. Do you really think paying them $4/hr, working them 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, with no benefits, no vacation time, etc would be beneficial to them getting the good employees required to be successful? Have you ever tried to be successful in business using the business model you have described? Go smoke some more pot, eat some more chunky monkey and think about it.

        • Wendy wilton :

          Paul speaks truth. Employers who want to attract good employees already offer better wages and benefits…at 4% unemployment in VT they have to in order to have good help. It’s a fact.

        • Doug Hoffer :

          Mr. Richards

          “Almost all” is not accurate.

          According to the most recent Fringe Benefit Survey by the Vermont Dept. of Labor, there are many Vermont businesses that do not offer benefits (can’t afford it or choose not to).

          For example, 42% of companies with 10 – 19 employees do not offer health benefits; 59% don’t offer prescription drug coverage; and 79% don’t offer dental.

          And it’s not only small businesses.

          — 22% of companies with 20 – 49 employees do not offer health benefits

          — 11% of companies with 50 – 249 employees do not offer health benefits

  4. Robert Johnston :

    “almost all of them” DO NOT pay more than the minimum wage or provide benefits. How ignorant of you to say that. I am a graduate student who has work 4 jobs since I was 16 in industries that do not provide benefits or a wage above the minimum wage and worked with many single mothers during that time. So rude of you to say “go smoke some more pot…” You are just proving my point that people who are against these policies are misinformed or miseducated.

    • Paul Richards :

      “If the employers got to decide what to offer their employees, we would all be making $4/hr, working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, with no benefits, no vacation time, etc.” Robert; Pardon my assumption that your statement quoted above was derived from smoking too much pot but I’m hoping there is some reasonable explanation for your lack of understanding of the topic. What you said is just not true. Why don’t we just mandate 8 weeks of sick pay and jack the minimum wage up to $45/hour and stop all the bickering? I hope your graduate studies are not in Business and economics because you seem to lack a basic understanding of them. You don’t need a raise or more sick days, you need a steady job. Mandating yet more costs on employers is not gong to create jobs, quite the opposite. There are a lot more employees making above minimum wage than not. In 2012 4.7% of all hourly workers were paid at or below minimum wage. (see If you factor in non hourly wage earners the percentage is much less. Most employers, by far, do pay above minimum wage. The best proven method of bringing people out of poverty is a robust economy that creates jobs and economic growth and freedom. Nowhere and at no other time in history has this been more prevalent than in this country. This is what lifts people out of poverty. Unfortunately this has been lost in this country as we operate under the current one party liberal system that rewards people for not working and punishes people who work and try to create jobs.

  5. Barbara Sorenson :

    I’m so sick of right wingers. spend some time understanding our point of view and maybe you will begin to understand the root causes of poverty and what is needed to resolve them.



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