From COVID-19 To Picket Lines – One Year of Building Progressive Union Power Within The Vermont AFL-CIO

Vermont AFL-CIO President David Van Deusen Speaks On The State of Labor:

We have a long way to go before we can claim the transformative victories for Organized Labor and the working class that our dreams, desires, and needs demand. And we know that with the continuing pandemic and the economic crisis we will have many challenges before us. Even so, over the last 365 days we have made tremendous progress in making the Vermont AFL-CIO a more powerful labor organization and the most progressive State Labor Council in the North America. We have done this by diligently advancing the goals and principles articulated in our Ten Point Program For Union Power []. Since your new leadership came to power in September 2019 [and again through a special election in 8/20] we have taken the following actions:

COVID-19: From the start of the pandemic we aggressively advocated for immediate actions at the State level to mitigate the worst potential consequences of the virus and the subsequent shutdown. As part of this effort we, working with allies, saw through expanded access to unemployment insurance, free childcare for essential workers, free food provided to working families, a moratorium on evictions, and crisis pay being provided to many Vermonters including the 8000 home healthcare workers organized into AFSCME Local 4802. We also stood with our healthcare workers from AFT and OPEIU when they demanded adequate PPE and safe working conditions.

Union Democracy & Transparency: We organized monthly leadership meetings open to ALL VT AFL-CIO members (with agendas and minutes posted on our social media). Further, at this convention, we shall put forth a series of proposed constitutional changes that will greatly empower rank and file VT AFL-CIO members concerning the internal workings of this organizations.

Working Class Unity: We endorsed Migrant Justice’s Milk With Dignity campaign and have had our Executive Vice President Tristin Adie speak on our behalf at a rally against mass deportations. We also came out strong against racial injustice, in support of Black Lives Matters, and for Black self-determination (providing $1000 to the Jericho Movement and $1000 to Greater Burlington Black Lives Matter). We have taken these steps because they are the right thing to do, and because the working class will only be strong enough to overcome our common foes when we are UNITED and when we all reject the constructs of racism and xenophobia that seek to divide us. And at this Convention, we shall seek to facilitate both a BIPOC Caucus and a Woman’s Caucus in order to better insure that this Labor Council robustly defends the rights (and articulates the needs) of ALL our members.

Standing With Our Building Trades: We stood with our Vermont Building Trades Council when they successfully fought to pass the Responsible Contractor Ordinance in Montpelier. We also stood with them in the Statehouse when they passed legislation making for a more fair worker misclassification enforcement process. Presently we are working closely with the Trades in a major effort to secure National AFL-CIO Housing Trust funding for the [Phase 1] $175,000,000 Burlington CityPlace project (which if successful would mean ALL construction jobs on that project would be UNION).

Our Social Program: We successfully fought to increase the state minimum wage to a dignified $12.55 an hour. In the years to come we shall fight for $15 an hour, single payer healthcare, paid FMLA, & more.

Building A Popular Front: We have consistently sought to work in cooperation with our allies from the Workers’ Caucus, The Vermont Progressive Party, DSA, Rights & Democracy, Migrant Justice, the Abenaki, racial justice activists, and 350Vermont on areas where we share a mutual interest.

Green New Deal: We joined a coalition with Rights And Democracy and the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe in order to articulate a vision of a union led Green New Deal, post COVID, economic recovery effort. As a coalition we will FIGHT to see legislative progress made concerning this effort in 2021 and beyond. Further, we were proud to endorse the 2020 Climate Strike along with 350Vermont’s day of climate action last winter.

Saying NO To Regressive Taxation: In the Statehouse we helped kill the TCI gas tax because we know a new regressive gas tax would only hurt working families, and working people pay enough already. It’s time to make the corporations and the rich pay!

Electoral Politics/No More Politics As Usual: We passed a new political endorsement policy whereby we shall ONLY back Statehouse candidates who are members of parties that clearly and consistently stand with us on our issues, and/or who are candidates that are labor champions. As such, we endorsed the entire Progressive Party slate for 2020 VT House & Senate races, endorsed the entire Progressive slate in Burlington City Council election in March (and won a majority on that City Council!), endorsed Progressive David Zuckerman for Governor, endorsed nine VT House/Senate candidates from the Democratic Party who are members of the Workers’ Caucus, and recommended that the National AFL-CIO endorse Bernie Sanders for President in the 2020 Democratic Party Primary. [Nationally the AFL-CIO has since endorsed Joe Biden and the entire AFL-CIO is focused on defeating neo-fascist Trump in the 2020 General Election. Further, the Vermont AFL-CIO is preparing to do our part in the event that Trump loses at the polls but still refuses to leave office.]

Working Class Democracy: We have publically called for political power to be divested into the hands of working class Vermonters directly through a Town Meeting based referendum system of self-government. And in future years we shall fight to implement this expansion of direct participatory democracy through an amendment to our State Constitution.

Priority On Organizing: We reallocated resources from our lobbying efforts and directed them to organizing. Through doing this we hired on-call organizers who have thus far assisted in building support for our Card Check bill (and more recently have been assigned to an internal organizing campaign for AFSCME Local 1674). We further eliminated the staff position of Political Director (which was lobbying based) and replaced it with the new organizing oriented position of Executive Director (and congratulation to Liz Medina of the UAW for taking the position!);

We Are Not Afraid of Strikes/Picket Support: We stood by the Machinists Local 2704 in their successful strike last fall. We stood by Burlington City workers from AFSCME Local 1343 in their victorious picket against threatened job cuts/pay cuts. We participated in United Academics at UVM car protest against pay cuts for Lecturers. We participated in the VSC/AFT car protest against campus closings. We took part in May Day demonstrations in support of essential workers;

Building A More Powerful Labor Movement: We have given moral support to like-minded members of non-AFL-CIO Unions who seek to have their labor bodies adopt the core principles of our Ten Point Program For Union Power. And just this past Labor Day, a newly formed VSEA United! caucus received the support of more than one quarter of their voting members when United! candidate, Jerold Kinney, received more than 28% of the vote. Furthermore, we are happy to report that the 200+ member SEIU Local 200, supporting our progressive program, has signed a Solidarity Charter with us making them the newest VT AFL-CIO affiliate. Bottom line, as we are successful in advancing our program, other labor organizations will follow. And together we will build the power needed to foundationally change what is politically possible in Vermont and beyond.

-United! David Van Deusen, Vermont AFL-CIO President

*The above State of Labor report was recently mailed to all our Vermont AFL-CIO affiliates along with the call for Delegates to attend the 2020 Convention [11/21].

Comments | 1

  • What's Old Is New Again

    First off, this all sounds great. I continue to be impressed by Vermont’s labor organizations and activism.

    Also wanted to mention that I’ve been reading a lot about the turn of the last century (late 1800s through early 1900s) and hearing many of the same issues raised in the speeches, letters, and platforms of that time. There was dissent, there were major social issues, labor was majorly involved, and the establishment resisted. The Progressive movement got its start then. Even the idea of direct “referendum” democracy (advocated by American composer Charles Ives, among others) was current then as now.

    These kinds of social issues never seem to go away, but it’s good to hear such a positive slate of activities. Thanks for posting!

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