People's Team Reports from the State House: February 12, 2013


Update from People's Team Member Brittany Nevins
– Today I joined the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs committee on the understanding of bill S. 59- Labor; collective bargaining for home care workers; independent support service providers! I was able to get insight into the complex process of unionizing and the urgency of careful attention in creating a bill, for it was clear that the creation of the bill may have been rushed. The meeting started off unexpectedly with Senator John Campbell, who is the co-sponsor of the bill, giving his support. He told a passionate story about a client of his who became quadriplegic in a car accident. The family of this man was very poor and had very little insurance. Campbell described his client’s care as costing millions of dollars. The man and his family also lived in the mountains, adding an extra level of difficulty to his access to care. Campbell said, “It is not easy to get help. Why don’t we have more? Then I found out that they only get paid $10 an hour.” Campbell then passed out a handout showing pay rates for personal care with inflation and without inflation, making the point that hourly pay has not adjusted to inflation since 2001, making a difference between $10.53/hour (current rate) and $13.82/hour (what it would be if adjusted to current inflation). This handout seemed to surprise most of the room as the reality of the condition homecare workers set in.

Michael Hoyt, of the Legislative Counsel, ran through the bill trying to provide description and clarification of its many parts, though numerous questions were continuously popping up from the committee and often questions were posed to the entire room as Hoyt did not always have the answers. Many of the questions posed seemed to lead to Senator Baruth’s central point regarding capacity. Baruth suggested separating the bill into three bills; 1.) Creation of a council, 2.) Right to bargain, and 3.) Resources. He said, “Combining into one might be contentious in multiple ways rather than just one way.” Senator Cummings then said, “We could do a bill as simple as the right to organize here.” The chair of the committee, Kevin Mullin, commented, “It is the easiest way to go, but I’m not sure if this is what the people want.” Senator Collins recommended that the committee increase communication with the administration and organizations to get a better sense of cost and time. The prevalence of questions and attempts at answers addressed a lack of information on behalf of the administration and many issues regarding the condition of the homecare system in Vermont. With five testifiers scheduled to testify, only two were given the opportunity in the last ten minutes, while the rest were asked to reschedule. Sadly, the two that testified were rushed as a result of time pressure. Likely the committee and Hoyt himself would have learned a great deal from hearing these testifiers speak with sufficient time. The meeting concluded with an incomplete sense of the bill, with most of us feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Even still, there seemed to be broad support in the room for the right to bargain for homecare workers. Though the meeting consisted of many questions, the unorganized nature brought to light the imperative to repair the homecare system at all levels and that the administration needs to step up and give it a voice so we can better understand its shortcomings. Senator Campbell said, “We should want to increase quality home-based care.” The chair of the committee, Kevin Mullin said, “This graph has showed that we have ignored them (homecare workers).” Campbell replied, “We are not intentionally ignoring them, but they have not had a voice. The attempt to organize has brought that to our attention.” This is why our work at the Vermont Workers Center is so important. Without organizing together we have no power. Organizing allows us a chance to reveal the true reality of the system and a chance to get what we need to live dignified lives.

The legislative report gives a weekly update on the Put People First People's Agenda. For more background on the agenda, click HERE.

Healthcare Is a Human Right: This week much of the focus was on how the Governor’s 2014 budget impacts how people on Catamount and VHAP during the transition into the upcoming Exchange, much of the testimony included a focus on how while there are proposals to subsidize added premium costs, but would still leave huge out-of-pocket cost increases.  On February 15th, the Shumlin Administration plans to release a plan for determining the financing of Vermont’s universal system Green Mountain Care.  The Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals have invited other members of the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign on February 19 for their lobby day. 

People's Budget: A group of parents from St. J traveled to the State House on Wednesday, February 6 to give testimony before the House Committee on Human Services. Martha Aguilar spoke before the Committee, representing a group of parents who rely on the Reach Up program. Sindy, Ashley, Starr, Amber, Delani, Martha, and Charlotte all came to tell their legislators that the budget must not be balanced on the backs of the poor by cutting Reach Up, but that we must have a budget process that fulfills all our human rights and raises money equitably.   Last night, at the VIT budget hearings, members of Put People First shared their personal struggles with meeting their needs, and called for a People's Budget. Check out our flickr page for photos, and read VT Digger's coverage.

Human Right to Movement & Access to Transportation: Migrant Justice had a successful State House Day of Action, with excellent turnout by farmworkers, allies, and volunteers calling for driver's licenses for all in Vermont. Participants engaged in a training on how to talk with legislators about driver's licenses, then broke up into teams to educate legislators on driver's licenses.

Healthy Environment & Livable Planet: The bill to promote and expand weatherization was introduced Wednesday and is expected to be on the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee’s agenda next week. Put People First will continue working for weatherization that meets the fundamental human rights principles.

Work with dignity: The right to organize bills for Vermont’s early educators (S.52) and independent direct support service providers (S.59) are in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs.  More testimony is expected on S.59 this week, and on February 14 Vermont Early Educators United is having a lobby day at the Statehouse.  The Paid Sick Day bill has been introduced in the House, it is H.208.  Here's a link to the bill:
Stay tuned on ways to support these bills. 



“I have grown up around Vermont politics and I now know that I can hold my legislators accountable surrounding issues that are important to me!” -Liz Kane





"I'm on the People's Team to learn more about the bureaucratic process so that we can work together towards a system of government that is truly accountable, transparent, and equitable for/to the people. I seek to use my eyes and ears to report back to my community and help lift up the voices that are rarely heard in government." -Cecile Reuge


Interested in joining the People's Team? The People's Team is our answer to corporate lobbyists in our State House. It's our way of holding government accountable by being in the room while the business of government is happening. Call the Vermont Workers' Center at 861-4892 to learn how to get involved.