RELEASE: Vermont Workers’ Center: Preserve workers’ rights to strike and take collective action

For Immediate Release: March 18th, 2015

Contact: Keith Brunner, 802-363-9615

Vermont Workers’ Center: Preserve workers’ rights to strike and take collective action

Today, the Vermont Workers’ Center issued the following statement in response to recent moves by the Shumlin administration and some legislators to curtail the fundamental rights of working people in Vermont.

Amy Lester, NEA member since 2003 and board member of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said, “No one wants to participate in a strike. To leave your classroom and walk a picket line is the last resort. But it's a resort I don't want to give up.”

James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said, “The right to work with dignity is a human right, which includes the ability to take collective action or strike if necessary.  In this era of increased attacks on working people, Vermont’s legislature must preserve good jobs and public services which are critical for our communities, and reject the Governor’s austerity agenda.”

The statement reads as follows:

“Whereas private sector unions have faced a coordinated political and judicial attack for decades;

Whereas with private sector unionism at a historic low, wealthy industrialists such as the Koch brothers have expanded their political and judicial attacks to erode public sector union jobs;

Whereas historically when these reconfigurations of workplace rights have occurred, working people’s ability to win work with dignity has depended on their ability to engage in concerted activity, job actions and strikes;

Whereas both nationally and here in Vermont power holders refuse to raise revenue in an equitable manner by closing tax loopholes for top income earners;

And whereas simultaneously the same power holders use the resultant revenue crisis to defund public goods such as infrastructure and institutions and attack public sector unions;

And whereas the Administration’s revenue and investment policies represent a similar refusal to make the wealthiest in Vermont pay their fair share;

And whereas Governor Shumlin has targeted essential services provided by VSEA 911 dispatchers, caregivers at the Vermont Veterans Home, Educators at the Community High School of Vermont and job coaches and NEA teachers for cuts;

And whereas the Administration is holding state employees hostage by proposing that they open their contracts and give back their own wages to balance the state’s budget deficit upon threat of laying off of 325 state employees and slashing vital state services. All this while continuing to pressure communities to shutter their public schools;

And whereas Governor Shumlin has attempted to take away what little used tools working Vermonters have left to win work with dignity, to preserve good jobs, and resist austerity, namely job actions and strikes;

And whereas the rights to collective bargaining and to strike have been internationally recognized as inextricably intertwined as the right to collective bargaining is without practical effect in the absence of a right to strike, and would amount to no more than “collective begging;”. Thus the right to strike is explicitly recognized as a human right in the UN’s International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (Article 8., 1966), and implicitly in numerous ILO interpretations of the human right to organize;

And whereas the right to strike is best understood as a collective right, the right of workers to band together to win justice, it is also grounded in the Constitution. “The constitutional right to strike rests on a number of bedrock principles: (1) the basic personal liberty to pursue happiness and economic security through productive labor… (2) the absolute prohibition against involuntary servitude and (3) the fundamental freedoms of association and expression.” (former Chief Justice Rose Bird of the California Supreme Court);

Therefore, the Vermont Workers' Center opposes any effort by the Vermont Legislature to further undermine the human and constitutional rights of workers to utilize all means of collective representation available to them by law, which include:

  • the right to organize a union

  • the right to take direct action on issues impacting their lives

  • the right to recognition of their union

  • the right to elect their own representatives

  • the right to meet as equals with the employer on employment related matters

  • the right to bargain collectively

  • the right to strike”