Higher ed, health care union opposes AFL-CIO gun stance

Members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, part of AFT Vermont, march in downtown Burlington in May 2018. Photo courtesy of AFT Vermont

Leaders of a group representing Vermont health care and higher education workers called on an umbrella labor group Thursday to withdraw its support for gun rights, saying that policy could promote violence.

The executive board of the state’s American Federation of Teachers described as “irresponsible” a Vermont AFL-CIO resolution that declares support for gun rights to counter the rise of extremist groups in the country.

AFT Vermont President Deb Snell said that, while she doesn’t have a problem with responsible gun ownership, she is concerned that the state AFL-CIO’s officially backing gun ownership would translate into violence. 

“It’s like people are looking for trouble,” she said. “I’m reminded of the laws in the South, the ‘stand your ground’ laws, and how many unnecessary deaths have happened because of that.”

Snell said workers who AFT represents — teachers and nurses — have seen school shootings firsthand and have had to deal with their aftermath. The AFL-CIO resolution, passed during the labor group’s convention on Sunday, “don’t align with our beliefs,” she said.

Snell said about 3,000 AFT Vermont members stopped paying dues to the state AFL-CIO two years ago because of what they consider “reckless actions” by its leaders. “It seems to be turning into this more extremist political organization, rather than someone who works for the workers,” she said. 

Vermont AFL-CIO represents 11,000 workers in Vermont, 6,000 of them members of AFT. 

When asked whether more AFT Vermont members would be withdrawing financial support from the AFL-CIO, Snell said that is a decision for its affiliated local groups to make. 

Vermont AFL-CIO’s president, David Van Deusen, said the group won’t withdraw its gun rights resolution. Any political position that its members take at a convention, he said, can be altered only at another convention. The next one will take place in 2022.

“The Vermont AFL-CIO does not apologize for our deep commitment to defending democracy, nor for the fact that we practice actual democracy,” Van Deusen said in a written statement to VTDigger.

Two AFT representatives on the AFL-CIO executive board emphasized that the resolution was adopted through a vote following a debate. 

“Not everybody agreed with the resolution,” said Helen Scott, an AFL-CIO vice president for AFT. “But I think that’s crucial to union democracy, that we’re able to debate controversial issues.”

David Feurzeig, also a board vice president for AFT, said he personally didn’t support the resolution but was proud of the process that led to it. He said he believes it is important for labor groups to take a stand on such social issues.

He said the resolution’s original version included a line stating that the Vermont AFL-CIO “opposes any new gun control measures” in the state. But that was apparently removed following the debate, with the final version directing union leaders to “defend” the group’s collective right to own firearms.

AFT Vermont represents several locals: Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Porter Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Brattleboro Federation of Nurses, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England United, Community Health United, United Academics, UVM Staff United, Vermont State Colleges Faculty Federation, Vermont State Colleges United Professionals, and Community College of Vermont United Faculty.

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Tiffany Tan

About Tiffany

Tiffany Tan is VTDigger's Southern Vermont reporter. Before joining VTDigger, she covered cops and courts for the Bennington Banner from 2018 to 2021. Prior to that, Tiffany worked for the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota and spent more than 10 years working for newspapers and television stations in Manila, Singapore and Beijing.

Email: [email protected]

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