After the Governor’s announcement that he’s not going to pursue financing for our state’s universal healthcare system, it felt like a slap in the face. For six years, our members have poured their heart and souls into the Healthcare is a Human Right campaign, banding together to change what was politically possible with healthcare reform. With one announcement from the Governor, the media immediately began calling the whole thing dead. Yet now is the time to demonstrate that the people in Vermont need health and dignity — a healthcare system that works for everyone. There’s a spirit of uprising in the air all around the country. We’re “mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.” And as we’ve seen time and again, our collective power is strong. We can — and do — win when we demand what is right and just. The following is my annual Top 10 list of reasons to Join and Donate Today to the Vermont Workers’ Center. — James Haslam, Director
Four years ago, we set out to transform our healthcare system so that it met the needs of people in our communities, instead of being a humongous money making enterprise off of our health. We started talking to everyone we could about joining us in this movement and we have met so many extraordinary people over the years. One person who inspires me is Stauch Blaise from Randolph who often has to choose between his health and other basic necessities. On Dec 11th, Stauch brought his stack of medical bills to testify to the Green Mountain Care Board about the burden of co-pays on low-income and working class people. “This is just 12 months — this year’s worth— of co-pays that I’m never going to be able to pay. I paid the woodman $750 in the past couple of months, but I’m not going to go have my feet looked at.” Stauch burned his bills on the statehouse steps a week later. Take a moment to watch Stauch’s Story.
The historic CCTA bus drivers strike in Burlington this past Spring helped ignite a new labor solidarity movement. The courage of the bus drivers and the enormous amount of solidarity from the community led to a big win for the right to work with dignity. The community solidarity meetings which happened on Sundays during the strike at the Vermont Workers’ Center didn’t stop when the strike ended. They moved on to other struggles for Work With Dignity in the community and still draw two or three dozen people at each meeting to work together in solidarity.
This year we prioritized a campaign for paid sick days for all workers. Thousands of people supported it and told powerful stories about why workers and families need paid sick days. The support was truly amazing—polls showed 3 out of 4 Vermonters supported paid sick days—and support in public hearings for the proposed law was overwhelming. When the bill didn’t make it out of committee, we were reminded that we have a broken democracy, one where business leaders can meet behind closed doors with politicians to stop things people want. One of the amazing people who spoke out was Laura, a State House cafeteria worker who gave an incredibly courageous testimony to the legislators. Shortly after the story hit the media, she was fired, but because of an enormous amount of public pressure she was offered her job back and given all of her back pay.
Since 1998, the VWC has been exploring new ways for people to have rights as workers. Most workers will not be able to form a union at their work under traditional models. This year we began exploring new ways to organize with workers in non-union industries. We ramped up our Workers’ Rights Hotline and established a new Work With Dignity strategy committee of VT labor organizers and emerging workplace leaders. Jose Ortega, a Burlington restaurant worker called our Hotline, and with help from VWC organizers he won $700+ in unpaid overtime. We also officially became the Designated Accountability Monitor of the City of Burlington’s Livable Wage ordinance, for workers employed by city contractors. From the Fight for $15 to the Burlington Livable Wage Ordinance, winning victories for the working class in the 21st Century will take creativity and muster.
One of the most exciting things that has happened in the past year has been to see the emergence of the Vermont Student Union, which started with students at the state colleges coming together to fight for more funding for affordable education and has now grown to campuses across the state to Stop Corporate U and support workers’ rights on campuses across the state. At a powerful rally at the UVM Trustees meeting, students made demands for students’ rights, workers’ rights, and divestment from fossil fuels — showing through action that our struggles are united.
It was amazing to go to NYC with dozens of VWC members, who joined over two thousand people from Vermont who participated in this historic action. We hope to work more closely with our partners like Rising Tide, 350 Vermont, and the Climate Justice Alliance in the coming year. We must move our state towards a just transition from fossil fuels, to a new economy that supports working people and the planet — and puts people and the planet first.
Coming out of the 2012 People’s Convention for Human Rights, the VWC began working with a broad range of over a dozen organizations that pledged to work together. In 2015, we are committing to taking a major step to uniting our movements for workers’ rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, climate justice and all our human rights. A first glimpse of what this could look like was on Oct 27, 2014 when the VWC joined in solidarity with Rising Tide, 350 Vermont, and Just Power to have an action where over 500 people came to the Governor’s office, and 60 arrested in civil disobedience, to pressure him to Stop The Vermont Gas Pipeline. Two of Vermont’s rising labor leaders spoke at the rally representing the VWC — Amanda Sheppard of Vermont Homecare United/AFSCME and Katelyn Chase of VSEA.
The strike of FairPoint workers in VT, NH and ME is a clear example of the war being waged by Wall Street against working families. To me it demonstrates so much of what is wrong with our economy. The hedge fund sharks who own the company want to take everything people have worked so hard for over the years. They fought to raise the standards of their profession and have dignified family-supporting jobs. Check out Fairpoint striker Kris White’s great op-ed “Fairpoint Strike Reinforces Need for Health Reform” in VTDigger. And much appreciation to those who came to the FairPoint Holidarity Dinner in Burlington on 12/21 — raising nearly $4,000 for striking workers.
Human rights never fall down from the sky and they are not gifts by nice politicians. They are the result of people’s movements building power to collectively demand them, win them and defend them. That is why it is so critical that we are building people power for the long haul in Vermont and with our partners across the country. In 2014, we joined together with Healthcare Is A Human RIght Campaigns that have started up in Maryland, Maine and Pennsylvania to begin a national Healthcare is a Human Right alliance. This September, longtime VWC organizer Shela Linton and I participated as guests in the 2nd Membership Assembly of Put People First - PA in Philadelphia. We were completely blown away by the amazing group of people who are coming together down there.
I have had the honor of working with so many incredible people over my past 15 years working with the VWC. Their commitment to a movement of countless meetings and sacrifice for families to do this critical and difficult work has really fueled me. One person in particular who has taught me so much is longtime VWC leader FaRied Munarsyah, who is a co-founder of our People’s Kitchen that serves food at big and small movement events. Nourishing the movement with good food not only is building community through these delicious meals together, but also gets many of us to come back to more events. Have you had his peanut sauce?