Labor

Unions and Grassroots Efforts

As a Mayoral candidate I've received the endorsement of the Vermont Building Trade and Construction Unions and Champlain Valley Labor Council. These umbrella organizations represent several unions, including AFSCME , nurses, ironworkers, laborers, electricians, carpenters and plumbers. I'm pleased to have received these endorsements. As a City we remain committed to building good, sustainable jobs and attracting businesses that create good jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2008 nationwide union membership was at about 7 percent in private employment, 37 percent in public employment, and 12.4 percent overall – a slight increase from 2007. Approximately 40 percent of public employees are not eligible for union membership. In Vermont a little over 10 percent of all employees belong to unions and 12 percent are represented by unions. New York has the highest unions membership rate at 26.1 percents and South Carolina the lowest at 2.3 percent.  See the BLS union report for 2008 here. We should always recognize the role unions have historically played, and continue to play, in promoting fair wages, benefits and working conditions for all workers. These are fundamental principles that responsible government should firmly support. Union workers have contributed to my mayoral campaign both with donations and volunteer support. The strength of the Progressive Party in Burlington is often measured by its ability to reach out across the city door-to-door. This year is no exception. With union help three leaflets will be dropped off at over 15,000 doors in Burlington.

Equal Time

Podcast of Equal Time Radio interview with Ed Stanak, past president of VSEA ( 2001-2007), and current president of the VSEA bargaining unit that represents over 4,000 state employees - highway workers, health department nurses, environmental protection workers and more.  Ed hits the policies that are resulting in layoffs, cuts in essential social services, and deepening Vermont's recession. Joined by Anthony Pollina, arguing for alternative policies to create jobs and pull us out of the downward spiral caused by "conservative" hostility to government that serves working families.  Podcast at: http://equaltimeradio.com/?q=node/37

Let's Not Step Backward on Liveable Wages

The phrase "livable wage" entered the lexicon 11 years ago when the first Job Gap Study provided a methodology to calculate an alternative to the outdated poverty measure: income sufficient to meet basic needs without recourse to public assistance. And it's been 9 years since a tri-partisan legislative study committee recommended that the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) use that methodology as the basis for an "official" livable wage calculation each year.  The legislature accepted those recommendations in 2000, including a call for a higher earned income tax credit.  This was an important victory. Interestingly, the legislative study committee expanded the methodology (initially constructed to be very conservative) to include a few budget categories not in the original (dental insurance, renter's insurance, life insurance, savings, etc.).  These additions were justified because without such protections, a low-income family would be very likely to require public assistance at some point. As groups in other states followed our lead, most adopted very conservative methodologies that did not include these expenses.  Not surprisingly, their livable wage estimates are lower than ours. Fast forward: After almost 10 years, the JFO expressed frustration with the methodology because some of the original data sets used in the basic needs budget calculations are not available or are not updated every year.  In addition, significant changes in health care have made it impossible to use the old approach.  The JFO needed to make some changes and asked the legislature for help. The legislature created a technical advisory council that will seek help from a panel of experts and make recommendations to the Joint Fiscal Committee. It all sounds reasonable; and it is.  Except that some folks are concerned about Vermont's figure being higher than other states.  Note that the JFO's livable wage figures are not prescriptive; they are only guidelines.  Nevertheless, some people find the comparisons disturbing. The technical advisory council held its first meeting this week.  Among other things, they heard from two groups that calculate the livable wage somewhat differently than we do; their methodologies do not include the budget categories added by the legislature in 2000 (along with other variations that are not defensible).  The fact that these groups were invited to testify is troubling.  It suggests that the council may be encouraged to reconsider the Vermont standard and adopt something less robust (lowest common denominator). If so, this would be a step backward.  Vermont was one of the pioneers in this effort and is considered the gold standard by some. There are three legislators on the council and I fully expect them to protect what we have accomplished.  Technical corrections are appropriate.  But deviating from the original purpose is not.  Let's hope the full council does the right thing.

Anemic Reporting on Vermont's Anemic Job Growth

Tonight's WCAX broadcast included a piece on the new population / demographic data from the Census Bureau. The reporter, Andy Potter, said, "The census estimates showing anemic growth are reflected in another reality. Vermont's work force is shrinking -- down by 2000 in just the last year alone. Without some kind of upturn, that points to stagnation in Vermont's economy." I'm afraid Mr. Potter is confusing cause and effect and does not understand the data. First, the "workforce" is not the "labor force" and the "labor force" is not population. The "workforce" is only those who are "employed", which includes the self-employed and those working without pay in family businesses. This is not the same as jobs. The number of "employed" Vermonters has declined by 5,400 in the last year. It is the "labor force" that has declined by 2,000, not the workforce. Note: The number of jobs during the same period is flat. This is not great news but illustrates the sometimes confusing difference between the "workforce" and jobs.

Douglas and the Ditto-Heads

IBM has just laid off 180 employees here in Vermont. Predictably, Governor Do-Nothing Douglas and the usual slew of ditto-heads are trumpeting to the world that Vermont hates business and drives jobs away. (What great marketing!) No doubt, more tax breaks for big business would have averted this lay-off to their way of thinking.

Today’s Brattleboro Reformer editorial astutely points out that the real reason for the job loss here is that IBM shifted jobs to a state that more actively supports its infrastructure thus providing a draw for businesses.

Douglas and the dittos dream of minimal government that only steps in to bail out business when their profits are threatened. More enlightened, progressive thinking suggests an active government that promotes the general welfare – including business – by building and maintaining a stable, dependable, public foundation.

Seeking the new radical

What is the point of being in a third party if you can't be radical? The idea is to break out of the box, right? Bust open the process and all that. Thing is, we have been struggling with old problems for a long time. It's hardly radical to call for universal, single-payer health care. It's no longer radical to demand livable wages. Been there done that 50 years ago. To be radical we have to keep the issues fresh. And there are plenty to choose from. Yesterday the governor signed the groundwater as a public trust bill. That water is a shared community resource is a fairly radical notion and we Progressives made this a priority for the session. We've pushed ideas like a sales tax rebate for buying high mileage cars - hardly a radical idea today but too controversial to pass last year. We hope to generate discussion on issues like peak oil. We push on democracy issues, privacy issues, personal freedom and environmental issues. Problem is, those old ideas - the radical notions of justice that have been part of the struggle for years and year still need addressing. Anthony Pollina talks about rebuilding our agricultural infrastructure at the same time we invest in cutting edge renewable energy and technology jobs. Maybe that's the solution - keep up the old struggle on one hand while pushing new and exciting battles on the other. Is the new radical a blend of the old and the new?
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