In 1998, a group of low-income workers with Central Vermonters for a Livable Wage officially launched the Vermont Workers' Center (VWC) and opened up an office in Barre.
The first project of the VWC was the Vermont Workers' Rights Hotline. Over the years, the hotline has recieved thousands of calls from people who believe they have their rights violated. Through our experiences with the hotline we learned that the best way to improve working conditions is through organizing a union or to demand elected officials change the laws.
We began working with progressive unions and community members to support workers who were organizing, and also to raise the minimum wage as part of the Vermonters For a Livable Wage Campaign. Through this work we also came to realize that many of the problems facing working people transcended the workplace.
Again and again we heard from people struggling with our market-based healthcare system, which treats healthcare as a commodity. For decades Vermont's elected officials had been saying they supported universal healthcare, but that it wasn't politically possible. In 2008, the VWC launched the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign, to build a powerful movement and change what was politically possible in Vermont.
From 2008 - 2011, the VWC's membership grew tremendously as people across the state got involved in the campaign and our movement for a real democracy. With hundreds of people knocking on doors, speaking out at forums, and testifying at public hearings, we succeeded in publicizing the depth of the healthcare crisis in Vermont, and forcing elected officials to take action to address it. In 2011 we were successful in passing Act 48, which put Vermont on course towards a universal, publicly-financed healthcare system -- Green Mountain Care -- which treats healthcare as a public good.
But passing the bill into law was just the start. We realized that an equitably financed healthcare system that was accountable to the people it served would require a transformation in how public funds are raised and spent. Following the passage of Act 48, we launched the People's Budget campaign to transform how the budget gets prepared and paid for in our state. In 2012 we were successful in passing a new provision to the state budget statute specifying that public money must be raised and distributed with a focus on people's fundamental needs and towards advancing human dignity and equity.
We also joined with our allies in 2012 to host a People’s Convention for Human Rights in Burlington, drawing over five hundred people from across the state and resulting in the formation of the Vermont Human Rights Council, an alliance of grassroots groups organizing to build a movement for people and the planet. Since 2012 we've worked closely with our labor and HRC partners to build shared movement for people and the planet which recognizes the common root causes of the issues we're up against.
Following Governor Shumlin's 2014 refusal to finance Green Mountain Care, we've been working with community members who are struggling with Vermont Health Connect to highlight the injustices of the current system, and to build momentum around equitable, public healthcare financing as a keystone to addressing the crisis of inequality in our communities.