Health & Dignity: 2014 Legislative Session Summary

Our Annual Summary of the Vermont Legislative Session

Healthcare Is a Human Right

The Senate and House started getting into the nuts and bolts of figuring out how our future universal healthcare system will work. S.252 was a bill with many provisions that violated our human rights principles. As S.252 was voted out of the Senate and moved into the House Healthcare Committee, we had a direct impact on the discussion with our organizing and advocacy efforts. This culminated in a Health and Dignity State House Day of Action where we raised our voices as one to let legislators know we demanded action. While S.252 died in committee, much of the language from that bill made it into another bill and was passed into law. While we’ve won several important things, we need more victories, and we have more work ahead of us for the rest of this year and in the 2015 legislative session. 

The Basics

Health & Dignity Day of ActionWe won:

  • Every Vermont resident's right to healthcare is now written into law
  • Healthcare has to be financed through equitable taxes
  • Financing has to be sufficient to provide the health services we need

We were able to defeat attempts to water down Act 48:

  •  We defeated exclusions that would have undermined universality, by leaving large segments of Vermont’s residents- including those on Medicare or members of the military- out of our universal healthcare.
  • We defeated an attempt to limit the health benefits that Green Mountain Care will provide

For the first time, healthcare has been named a right in Vermont law – with the healthcare bill that was passed (H.596) stating that “all Vermont residents have the right to high-quality health care.” The new law also states that the taxes which will pay for Green Mountain care “shall be levied equitably, taking into account an individual’s ability to pay” – language drawn from our financing principles. We were successful in defending against carve-outs (people or types of care excluded) in the bill, and in setting a low “benefits floor,” which sets a standard for the minimum care that all people enrolled in Green Mountain Care must be able to access. 

According to the new law, walk-in medical centers – those providing “non-emergency” care without an appointment – are prohibited from discriminating against or refusing healthcare to “any patient or prospective patient on the basis of insurance status or type of health coverage.” This was a big victory, since those centers wanted to be exempted from the provisions of Act 48.

Healthcare Day of ActionWhat should readers take away from this summary?
The Legislature and Administration have begun the process of getting into the details of how they will implement Green Mountain Care. There is a tremendous amount of pressure from insurance and pharmaceutical companies, big business employers and their lobbyists to keep things the same. This is because they all benefit financially from the way things work now. We are directly challenging this status quo and demanding the fundamentally different system envisioned by the passage of Act 48. We demand a universal healthcare system that puts people’s health first, not a health insurance system that makes profits for corporations. As we have seen this year, those who don't want this change in our health care system are pushing back, trying to weaken Act 48. There has never been a more crucial time to organize in our communities, bring our people’s movement into the State House, and demand human rights-based, truly universal, healthcare. That will start with the passage of an equitable and public financing plan made in the next legislative session.

Work with Dignity

Early Educators’ Right to Organize & Homecare Workers’ Fight for a Fair Contract

VICTORY! After years of organizing and struggle, 1400 early childhood educators won a historic Vermont labor law that allows these previously excluded workers to form a union. Home-based early educators in Vermont will now be able to choose whether or not to form a union, sit down with the Administration as equals, and negotiate a contract that improves the lives of early educators and the families they serve. Congratulations to our partners at Vermont Early Educators United and all early educators around the state on this victory!

Vermont homecare workers unionized with Vermont Homecare United announced their first collectively bargained contract with the State at the May Day March for Health & Dignity. 

Women's Day March for Paid Sick DaysPaid Sick Days 
While the campaign to pass paid sick days legislation has been in action for many years in Vermont, the VWC made it one of our top priorities in 2013, joining Voices for Vermont's Children to lead the Vermont Paid Sick Days Coalition and demand that paid sick days for all be passed this year. Over last summer and fall, we shared our stories in the media, circulated a petition, and organized many successful events – making the issue a top issue for the legislature to deal with once the 2014 session kicked off. 

It is no small victory to elevate an issue to a top political priority. We should all recognize that while the paid sick days bill (H.208) died in committee in late March – further demonstrating that politicians are listening to business lobbies before the needs and demands of people – we have greatly improved the conditions for passing paid sick days next year. For paid sick days in Vermont, it's not a question of whether we will win, it's a question of when. We must continue organizing for fundamental workplace standards that fulfill our human right to work with dignity.

Justice for Laura Tyrell
Laura TyrellIn January, Laura Tyrell, a deli worker in the State House cafeteria, said she really like one of our yellow "Paid Sick Days Now” stickers and asked for one to wear. The workers in the State House cafeteria are employed by a private contractor called The Abbey Group and do not receive paid sick days. Laura went on to testify in committee about her lack of paid sick days and appear in the press. The Abbey Group informed Laura she shouldn't have testified, threatened to fire her, began harassing her and ultimately fired her in April.

We are deeply concerned that an employee was wrongfully fired for exercising her right - on her own time - to freedom of speech. The State House should serve as an example of democracy and transparency for all in Vermont. We started a “Justice for Laura Tyrell” Open Letter to call on The Abbey Group for a commitment that to respect their workers' rights. On May 14, representatives of the VWC and VSEA met with Laura and the Abbey Group. The Abbey Group's President and CEO agreed to Laura's individual demands of lost wages and a recommendation letter. We are waiting to hear from the Abbey Group about their willingness to adhere to a work with dignity code of conduct. Stay tuned!

Front page news on our turnout at the minimum wage hearingMinimum Wage Increase
The Legislature voted to raise the minimum wage in phases from $8.73 to $10.50 by 2018. The measure puts our state on track to have the highest minimum wage of any state in 2018, and while we support increasing the minimum wage as much as possible and as fast as possible, $10.50 by 2018 is not the livable wage that our communities need to live and work with dignity. Throughout the legislative session, we pushed for paid sick days and a minimum wage increase not to be pitted against one another, and for the legislature to urgently move forward with both paid sick days and livable wages for all. We will continue organizing for livable wages and all work with dignity standards.

Racial Justice & Immigrant Rights
Migrant Justice at May Day Migrant Justice has done it again! Migrant farmworkers organized and mobilized to pass S.184 on May Day, which will become law upon Governor Shumlin's signature. This No Polimigra/No Profiling bill upholds the human rights to equal treatment and freedom from discrimination by mandating and enforcing: 1) strong bias-free-policing policies across all of Vermont; 2) police to collect race data and make it available to public scrutiny; and 3) implicit bias training for all Vermont police. Read more about the victory here