Vermont Workers' Center celebrates union victories, bias-free policing bill - VTDigger

Vermont Workers’ Center celebrates union victories, bias-free policing bill

Demonstrators rallied at the Statehouse on Thursday for May Day. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Demonstrators rallied at the Statehouse on Thursday for May Day. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Several hundred Vermonters descended on the Statehouse steps on Thursday for the Vermont Workers’ Center’s annual May Day event.

The center, and a coalition of unions and advocacy groups for poor and disabled Vermonters, had a lot to celebrate.

Migrant Justice, a group that advocates for migrant dairy workers from Mexico and central America, marked the passage of a new law that requires all law enforcement agencies in Vermont to adopt bias-free policing policies.

Several unions scored major victories in the last several days, thanks to grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts in the Statehouse.

The Vermont Legislature gave home care workers the right to organize and bargain with the state for higher wages last year. On the day of the rally, the Shumlin administration and workers were finalizing a deal that will raise the base pay to $11 an hour. Many home care workers earn the federal minimum wage.

James Haslam the executive director of the center, said these are the fastest growing positions in the economy and many of the 7,500 workers who provide home care services are earning less than $10 per hour.

James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers Center, participates in a May Day rally at the Statehouse. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, participates in a May Day rally at the Statehouse. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The American Federation of Teachers succeeded in passing the child care unionization bill out of the House Appropriations Committee. The legislation gives proprietors of home daycares the right to negotiate with the state over child care subsidies. Only child care providers who accept the subsidy can become members of the union. The bill is expected to go to the House floor on Monday.

Haslam said before the child care workers, the majority of whom are women, “came together to form a union they were effectively ‘voiceless’ about the decisions that affected their lives.”

“We’re the underdogs in all this stuff, but we’re seeing momentum,” Haslam said.

People who gathered at the rally punctuated the announcements of these victories with chants, one of which was “union power is on the rise, now’s the time to organize.”

Natalia Fajardo, an organizer with Migrant Justice, attends a May Day rally in Montpelier. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Natalia Fajardo, an organizer with Migrant Justice, attends a May Day rally in Montpelier. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The Workers’ Center and a coalition of other organizations also used the May Day rally to launch a petition drive to reaffirm support for the principles laid out in Act 48, the law that creates a framework for a government-funded, universal health care system.

The group plans to gather tens of thousands of signatures in the next year, which they will present to the governor and lawmakers to demonstrate public support for universal publicly financed health care.

Ellen Schwartz, 65, of Brattleboro has been involved with the Workers’ Center and the Health Care as a Human Right campaign for almost a decade.

“We have to think about the delivery of health care in a different way; not as a commodity, not as something that has to do with getting insurance or the profits of an insurance company,” Schwartz said. “We need to think of it in the same way we think of things like fire services, public education or road maintenance.”

“We need to remind lawmakers that this is something that’s really important to people in Vermont, and carving people out, backtracking or removing services is not what people wanted when Act 48 was passed,” she said.

In 2010, the Vermont Workers’ Center launched the Health Care is Human Right campaign and pressured lawmakers to pass a single-payer health care law. A year later, their efforts paid off with Act 48. The center is primarily supported financially by the AFL-CIO.

Controversy over the Shumlin administration’s financing plans for universal health care have galvanized activists who “want Plan A, not Plan B,” Haslam said.

The activists will recommit themselves to the cause of universal health care this year and make the issue the focus of their organizing, he said. The Legislature must vote next year on whether to move ahead with the Shumlin administration’s proposal for financing the plan through taxes and a “public premium.”

Demonstrator carries a sign from the Vermont Workers Center. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Demonstrator carries a sign from the Vermont Workers’ Center. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Haslam said he expects a well-funded opposition to single payer to fill the airwaves. The center, he said, will focus on mobilizing small groups people around the state. “This is about people talking to each other and making sure democracy is not derailed,” he said.

Other state groups are starting to emulate the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Health Care is a Human Right campaign. Representatives from similar groups in Maine, Baltimore and Philadelphia came to the May Day rally. Nijimie DZurinko came to Montpelier from Philadelphia where she is part of Put People First Pennsylvania, a grassroots organization that has 250 members. DZurinko’s group has rallied around universal health care because “it’s an issue everyone cares about, it unites people across party lines” and because “Vermont showed it could win.”

Sergio Espana, of Baltimore, belongs to Health Care is a Human Right Maryland. The group, launched a year ago, has about 200 “core members” in chapters in eight counties. Thousands, he said, participate in events.

Espana said his group is reaching out to people who have fallen through the cracks of the Affordable Care Act and who have been burdened by health care debt. Health Care is a Human Right Maryland has brought together people around the issue because he said “there is a real need.”

“We have failed to treat health care as a public good,” Espana said.

Anne Galloway

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  • Thanks Anne for the article. For clarification, I was describing before they came together to form a union that the thousands of childcare and homecare workers were effectively “voiceless” about the decisions the affected their lives and the vast majority of them are women. Now we have seen them build a powerful collective voice that is not only raising the standards standards in their profession but they are a huge part of this new emerging movement fighting to raise the standards for everyone. Thanks again.

  • Ann Raynolds

    Thank you VWC. I am comforted to know the Workers Center is in VT to stand for the poor, the voiceless, children, migrant workers and others. Keep up the good work!

    • Patrick Cashman

      Ms. Raynolds,
      The Workers Center stands for the union, don’t conflate the welfare of the AFL-CIO with the welfare of working Vermonters.
      The most important line in this article, and one that I personally believe the author should be commended for including, is “The center is primarily supported financially by the AFL-CIO.”

      • Walter Carpenter

        “The center is primarily supported financially by the AFL-CIO.”

        Patrick, do you think that working people have rights? That they should have unions to protect them against the abuses of capitalism? And how do you know that the VWC is primarily supported by the afl-CIO?

        • Paul Richards

          Walter, are working people without protected rights in this country now? By some of the comments here I sometimes wonder if I’m in communist China. It sounds like we all have it pretty bad here in the US of A. Jeesh, wonder why so many people want to risk their lives to get here.
          From all the regurgitation that is going on as of late it sounds more like wide scale buy-in to a lot of diversion from the real issues that are killing this country. That, along with a lot of orchestrated division between every possible line that can be drawn between people of all walks of life. Wake up people. As long as the masses are fighting amongst themselves rather than keeping their eyes on the ball the government will continue to steal our property and our rights and destroy this country.

          • Walter Carpenter

            are working people without protected rights in this country now? By some of the comments here I sometimes wonder if I’m in communist China.”

            Paul, I think you know the answer to that one. The child care workers, for example, working for barely minimum wage if that with no union is a good example. The destruction of unions over the last several decades and attempts strip away other kinds of protections for workers, falling or stagnant wages, while the rich get even richer, has been going on now for the last three decades or more. We certainly have not shared in the so-called recovery.

            I do agree with you about waking up. That is what this demonstration was about. I disagree, though, that it is all the government’s doing. It is those sitting in the swank office suits in the penthouses of corporate headquarters who are doing it.

          • Bravo Walter! I agree 100%! Why can’t people see these orgs are on the wrong track? Sure, it sounds wonderful but Government is already to big, these orgs are chanting to make it even bigger, more control over people, leading to higher taxes and more hoops to jump thru.

            How about our Leaders DEREGULATE, after all, we are in this mess because of our Government, their never ending push to control and tax every aspect of our lives.

            These people keep saying, ” we need, we want”, while never realizing it is our Government that brought us to this point.

            . Well, we will get it, under the control of a bloated regulatory Government.

  • Sharon Racusin

    Yesterday was a great celebration of International Workers Day. Thank you for writing this summary. I want to mention all the people who could not attend because they are distracted by their daily struggle to work for a living wage or work at all, to eat and have a reliable roof over their heads not to mention all of the other oppression and biases they are dealt.
    It should be unfathomable to everybody that we have found ourselves in this situation.
    On a brighter note, the roughly1000 people and the many different labor, environmental, social and religious groups that turned out on a dreary May Day morning, realize that we can only win back our dignity – to stand up against all the injustices that currently prevail – by building power together. The environment, the exploitation of workers, giving people what they need to take care of their families and basic respect for people to live and work in safe and healthy conditions – are all connected and they are the foundation of human rights.

  • Greg Lapworth

    The Socialist Party workers in Vermont bully their goals to law again. How does everyone like the NEW Vermont? I preferred the REAL Vermont.

    • Ummm, what Socialist Party? No existe, compadre…

  • Walter Carpenter

    “I preferred the REAL Vermont”

    Please tell me what the “real Vermont is.” Is it the same Vermont as outlawed slavery in its constitution, the first constitution in the world of that time to do so? If so, then what happened at the capital steps yesterday is a continuation of that Vermont, that “real Vermont.”

    • Jason Wells

      The “real Vermont” would be where all workers pay their fair share of taxes and are here legally. Not this current State where we have illegal aliens working for peanuts and not paying taxes. Just prior to this rally there were lots of illegal aliens wondering around the Capitol Building! I wonder how Shumlin’s State Police Security detail allows that to happen? One would think the Border Patrol boys would have showed up to collect the illegals it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel.

      • Ethan Rogers

        It is amazing how our Statehouse panders to those in the country illegally. If those here illegally were truly ‘saving the family farms’, I’d think they’d be too busy to constantly be testifying and demonstrating in Montpelier.

      • walter carpenter

        The “real Vermont” would be where all workers pay their fair share of taxes and are here legally.”

        They do pay taxes and they do help the Vermont economy.

        • Jason wells

          Walter, I assume your referring to illegal aliens? If so please explain just how they pay taxes?

      • John Greenberg

        Not this current State where we have illegal aliens working for peanuts and not paying taxes.

        Imagine the scenario:

        Ilegal immigrant pulls up at gas station. Owner comes out and says: “”Illegal?” Ok, for you, no gas taxes.

        Same thing at the corner store: “Oh, you’re illegal. You don’t need to pay sales taxes.”

        Landlord: Oh, don’t worry, Ms. Illegal, I won’t include any property taxes in your rent because you’re illegal. I’ll just pay them all myself.

        C’mon folks. This rhetoric is not only tired, it’s incredibly silly.

        • Jason Wells

          I should have been more clear “payroll taxes” to both the State and the Fed.. Cant happen as you dont have a SS# or a green card visa etc. That makes the labor all the more cheaper. How is that fair for everyone who does pay? Not rhetoric but plain facts.

  • Joe Fall

    Very powerful day for working Vermonters! I would estimate that there were over 800 people at the rally. Well done everyone! It was great to see so many VSEA, AFL-CIO, and UE members there (and environmentalists too)! We are truly building a powerful grassroots movement which is creating a better Vermont for working people. The fact that as we move forward with major (historic even) improvements benefiting working class Vermonters (and the environment), while also seeing Vermont’s unemployment rate sink to 3.4% (second best in the nation-Texas on the other hand stands at 4.5%), is solid proof that we are going in the right direction. Our current trajectory of implementing single-payer healthcare, implementing a $10.10 minimum wage (best in the nation), expanding our notion of workers’ rights/human rights to include our undocumented farm workers, expanding the right to unionize to 10,000 new folks (AFSCM’s 7000 home care workers and AFT’s 3000 early childhood educators), and transitioning to a renewable energy future (with the goal of achieving 90% of our energy needs from renewables by 2050) is absolutely breathtaking . All this while still practicing Town Meeting democracy on the local level. But I suppose this kind of progressive forward thinking runs in the veins of our Vermont. From its inception, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys were the first to go on the military offensive against the British Empire (Ticonderoga), we were the first in North American to outlaw slavery, we were the first to not link ownership of property to voting rights, and even declared war on Nazi Germany before the federal government. And more recently, of course, we were the first to enact Civil Unions. But all together, our common history, our present achievements, and our social/political trajectories, makes Vermont the best place in the nation to work, live, and raise a family. We Vermonters should be proud. And thank you Vermont Workers Center and the 1000s of folks who are part of the Workers Center for helping to build a better, more equitable, and more democratic Vermont!

    • Patrick Cashman

      And was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no. So let’s keep those dues checks rolling in kiddos. And if you were one of those who didn’t want to have to pay to work in your profession like so many child care workers, tough. Cough up that sweet sweet dough, because if you don’t pay, you don’t work. How else is the president of AFT going to afford that massive salary?

      • Dave Bellini

        You do realize there’s fewer and fewer people that remember Animal House.

    • John McClaughry

      If Ethan Allen had reappeared to address the May 1 rally, and spoke on the merits of Liberty and Property, he would have been hooted off the podium.

      • sandra bettis

        ethan allen was a hypocrite. he killed all the indians that were in vt – at least all the ones that he could find. whose liberty? whose property? yes, he would defnitely have been booed off the podium.

  • Dave Bellini

    A good turnout and an affirmation that many people don’t want the status quo.
    Why are some of you right wingers so concerned about illegal aliens working on Vermont farms? They’re NOT laying around on the couch all day collecting disability for ADD. They’re working hard. You should support people that work hard.

    • Jason wells

      Just because one stands firm against illegal immigration does not automatically make them a “right winger”.

      • Dave Bellini

        Perhaps but I am specifically commenting on the folks in Vermont working on farms. The larger issue and the problems in other states and with federal bipolar enforcement is different and more complex. Let’s deport the criminals and welcome the hard working people that come here to take tough jobs. We are a country of immigrants, that’s our history. True, 100 years ago most of them were legal immigrants but we weren’t so up tight about it either. Let’s support people that get up and go to work and that are willing to work hard.

    • Jon Culligan

      I thought all you left wingers were about fairness and equality Dave. How is it fair to support people illegally entering and/or overstaying their visa while thousands of others follow the rules, fill out the myriad forms, pay the thousands of dollars in fees and patiently wait their turn? You’re basically telling them ‘Tough Luck’ – if they’d only broken the law, they’d have been all set.

      • Dave Bellini

        The past several Presidents have ignored the issue. The congress has ignored the issue. Leahy, Sanders & Welch have ignored the issue. Both parties have done nothing. Remember George W. Bush and all his tough on the issue when he was a candidate in 2002? Clinton was going to create some “pathway to citizenship” and all that. So, it’s a case of national denial.
        Vermont politicians of both parties do not want the immigration laws enforced, not really. So, we might as well apply as much common sense as possible under the circumstances. The folks working on Vermont dairy farms were welcomed by this Governor and also by Governor Douglas. Everyone in power wants to allow them to work and nobody wants to rock the boat too much. So let’s treat them like human beings and not criminals. If Vermont or the federal government were serious they would be holding farmers and other employers accountable and no one is going to do that.

  • Paul Richards

    Walter Carpenter, Has anyone asked the child care workers caring for their own children or grandchildren or small business owners if they prefer to be forced to join a union? Who are you kidding? This push did not come from the child care workers, it came from the union who saw it as an opportunity to play to the divisive politics of the day and lock in more members.
    The rich have gotten richer because our government has stolen our tax dollars and propped up the stock market which has done little to help the middle and lower classes. This is only an issue because the unions made it an issue. Another side show to take the focus away from failed policies and from addressing the real killer issues we face.
    Ray Giroux, you say; “Sure, it sounds wonderful but Government is already too big, these orgs are chanting to make it even bigger, more control over people, leading to higher taxes and more hoops to jump thru.” I guess I really don’t understand what you are saying. Big business wants government to grow and add more regulations?? That will lead to more taxes which will be good for big business? I fail to see the reasoning. America has the highest business tax rates in the entire industrialized world. Businesses are relocating their home offices to other countries that don’t tax them for all profits regardless of what countries the profits were made in, unlike America. How is this going to help our out of control government spending problem? More and more, the spending fools in Washington will have to rely on us poor slobs to foot the bill as the train goes off the tracks and wrecks us all.

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