Story + video + photo gallery: Vermont unions rally in solidarity with Wisconsin workers

Hundreds gather in Montpelier in solidarity for Wisconsin workers. Photo by Josh Larkin.

Teachers, nurses, firefighters, state employees and electrical workers converged on the Statehouse lawn on Tuesday to send a message to the powers that be in Montpelier and leaders around the country: “Vermont is not Wisconsin.”

More than 300 union workers waved signs and listened to speeches in frigid temperatures on Tuesday in solidarity with unionized employees in Wisconsin whose right to bargain collectively for pay, benefits and working conditions was threatened by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Nineteen Wisconsin state senators walked out of the Statehouse in Madison in protest. They refused to be present for votes on the bill, which also includes pay concessions.

Martha Allen, president of the Vermont-NEA, said the Wisconsin governor’s tactics would weaken public sector unions across the country. She said that state’s repudiation of collective bargaining rights would set the state’s employer-employee relationship back decades.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith, lawmakers and union representatives regaled the crowd with speeches for more than half an hour.

Members of the crowd shouted out “tax the rich” and “this is what democracy looks like.”

In pictures

On video

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Anne Galloway

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  • I was there and very happy to stand with those who support democracy. A word of caution: a balance of powers means big unions are the same threat to democracy that big corporations and big government are.

    All three organizations share a top down design that continuously shifts power up the ladder and away from the grassroots where the power belongs. The end game being the leadership trying to centralize power to make THEIR lives easier (hey – sounds like Shumlin, Smith et al regarding the education commissioner, doesn’t it?).

    When I stand side to side with union members to fight for democracy I hope the union members are standing side by side with me too.

    • Arthur Hamlin

      Rama, as I VSEA member I respectfully disagree with your statement that the union is either a “big union” or a top down design. VSEA has all of 17 employees representing more than 5,300 state employees. I was also there yesterday and most of the VSEA signs were being held by state workers using their lunch break to support their fellow public workers in Wisconsin.

      • I did not reference the VSEA. I made a general statement about size and centralized powers.

        Are you opposed to grassroots control?

        • Arthur Hamlin

          Apparently my mistake, you said “all three organizations” – I thought you were referring to the unions that attended the event.

  • Tom Licata

    Anne writes:

    “Teachers, nurses, firefighters, state employees and electrical workers converged on the Statehouse lawn on Tuesday to send a message to the powers that be in Montpelier and leaders around the country: “Vermont is not Wisconsin.”

    “Vermont is not Wisconsin”

    Oh, really?

    Our (Vermont & Wisconsin included) bill of roughly $14.3 trillion in gross US debt is much worse than advertised.
    From the US Treasury Jan. 21, 2011 Table III B (Adjustment of Public Debt Transaction to Cash Basis) and that same Table from a year earlier, Jan. 22, 2010, show US public debt increasing from $17.4 trillion to $20.7 trillion, an increase of $3.3 trillion or, a 19% increase, in one year.

    Thus, the “official” budget debt and deficit numbers often reported in the news media do not reflect our nation’s true (excluding unfunded liabilities of roughly $100 trillion) dour fiscal and economic condition, as the truer figure of $20. 7 trillion is some 45% higher than the commonly reported debt figure of $14.3 trillion.

    The difference in these two figures arise out of our “off-balance sheet” funding of such items as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, student loans, bailouts and other such off-balance sheet items.

    This US Treasury report can be found here:


    Anne goes onto write:

    “Members of the crowd shouted out “tax the rich” and “this is what democracy looks like,” goes the storyline.

    Many studies have shown that taxing the rich upwards of 90% or more would not solve our debt crisis; in fact, should you look back in history, when U.S. tax rates were as high as 50% – 90%, total federal revenue stayed within the range of about 18.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

    In other words, higher rates did not produce greater revenues.

    Our nation is in such worse shape than what “John & Susie Q. Public” understand, and much of the blame lies at the feet of our political and media class, for telling folks not what they need to hear, but what they want to hear.

    Much greater pain and impoverishment is on its way.

    We can either orderly manage this situation or have it disorderly thrust upon us.

    These are our two choices.

    • Would you care to provide a link to substantiate the ‘Many studies have shown that taxing the rich upwards of 90% or more would not solve our debt crisis; …’ claim?

      In the meantime, could you explain how cutting the tax rates for rich people and corporations is going to help pay down that future debt?

      • Tom Licata

        Just how bad events are:

        “Our country is bankrupt. It’s not bankrupt in 30 years or five years. It’s bankrupt today.”

        This, from Boston University professor of economics Laurence Kotlikoff, writing in today’s Bloomberg News:


        – Don’t put words into my mouth. I never said we should cut taxes. In fact, taxes will have to be raised, they just won’t provide nearly enough revenue to fill our “fiscal gap.”

        – Over the years, I’ve read many articles pointing out that we can’t just tax our way out of our economic problems. I don’t have them at my finger tips. You can probably goole some. Though, Prof. Kotlikoff’s article pretty much puts this issue to rest, come to think of it.

  • Dave Bellini

    The unrest in Wisconsin is NOT over money. My understanding is that the unions out there have agreed to most(all?) of the monetary demands. The fight is over the right to collectively bargain. The workers there have stated repeatedly they are protesting for the right to bargain. Vermont is NOT Wisconsin. State employees took a 5% pay cut for 2 years.(3% decrease + loss of steps) Vermont state employees agreed to pay more to fully fund their pension. The current Governor and legislature support collective bargaining. This is vastly different from Wisconsin. It’s tempting to jump into a discussion about the national economy but that’s not what Wisconsin is about. It’s about respect for workers. For Governor Walker, it’s about power and the lust for total control.

  • robert warren

    Vermont NEA & VSEA standing together in solidarity. Why? When will VSEA realize that Vermont NEA looks down at VSEA and laughs at them.
    Considering VSEA union members have take a 5% paycut, and now has been asked to contribute more to retirement(the same retirement the teachers take from), while teachers continue to get raises.
    Trust me – these two are worlds apart. VT NEA will stand up for their teachers, while VSEA leadership continues to do nothing for their ranks. But, hey – glad to see you were there for solidarity.

  • Robert Hooper

    I suspect that Mr. Licata has been drinking from the well of “gee wouldnt a tax break be nice”. Unfortunately his selective reading does not allow him to look at the full and objective material available, nor apparently does it allow him to recognize that the crumbs that fall off of the table of the wall street skimmers are a small taste of the huge shift of wealth to the new idle rich. Tom, it may not balance the debt a few off the books wars have created, but it does a whole bunch to give Americans the idea that we are all sacrificing together. Team work??

    Actually, the rates you quote were pretty common when corporations and the wealthy were paying their fair share…

    As to the Union leadership issue, I figure as long as the members are electing people who are not getting paid to do their wishes, I am fairly confident the will of the members is being fairly well represented.

    • robert warren

      Mr. Hooper – please define “fairly well represented”. Do you believe it is fair that state workers continue to “give back” for the good of the state, while teachers continue to fight not to “give back”?

      Simple question – i would be curious to hear your response.
      thank you