Labor

Little Victories

Last summer a state worker approached me about a personnel rule that she found more than outrageous. As if lifting half of the Vermont press corp into the administration wasn't effective enough, Mike Smith and the gang decided there was no value allowing state workers to talk with the legislature. They cloak it under the rules for "Electronic Communications and Internet Use. But look closely at the second half of the purpose:
"These rules also apply to electronic communications or transactions in which a state employee represents him/herself as a State employee, regardless of whether he or she is using or accessing State equipment."
Seems to apply to any "transaction" where a state employee admits to working for the state. Further down the rules it reads:
"Prohibited activities also include, but are not limited to the following: lobbying public officials or asking others to lobby in their behalf, printing and/or distributing information from the Internet that is obscene, potentially offensive, harassing, or disruptive."
Yup, under the rules set up by the administration, state workers give up their rights to free speech when they punch in each morning. Nifty, huh? Fortunately, legislators of all stripes agreed this went too far and we were able to include a section in the whistle blower bill that directly prohibits any agency from limiting state workers' access to the legislature. As a member of the House Government Operations committee I have to say it's a great comfort to know that I can freely talk with the workers that actually make the state run! If only the Douglas administration applied this same level of resourcefulness to solving the pressing problems we face.

A Winning Campaign for Governor.

We launched a campaign for Governor in March, surrounded by over 400 of our closest friends and supporters, after saying in December I would be a candidate. As far back as August I began reaching out to build a coalition strong enough to defeat an incumbent governor. I made a special effort to reach out to friends in the Democratic Party believing grassroots Democrats shared our goal of electing a governor more in touch with the needs of Vermonters. Many were very supportive. But, the Democratic State Committee refused to meet and talk about a combined effort. Recently, a Democratic candidate entered the race. We continue to gain support but some have asked about the dynamics of a race with three viable candidates. There has been a lot of speculation – and a lot of political spin – about whether I might leave the race or run for another office. I heard the rumors just as you have. It began to sound to me like insider politics, so I thought it best to come together, here in the sunlight, to end the political spin, bury the myths that cause the speculation and outline a winning  race for Governor.

Why run as a P?

This is the time when all the parties are running around trying to secure candidates for office at all levels. As we talk to people about running as Progressives it's only fair that we level with them about what's ahead. Running as a P is just about the most difficult option you could chose. Far  tougher than D, R, or I. It's not all bad news though. We support our candidates as a good party should. And we pick up votes in rural areas that Democrats struggle to earn. Witness Sandy Haas (P-Rochester) and Susan Davis (P-Washington). Both were elected besting republicans that previously held the seat. But, generally if you're interested in public service there are easier ways to go about it. There are folks in both big parties who are fighting for change. Why not just join them? Because that strategy hasn't worked. Health care is the most obvious example. The topic of universal health care has been debated since before I was born. Since I was old enough to vote the topic has dominated elections at every level. The party most likely to support comprehensive overhaul has completely and whole-heartedly failed. Clinton the first failed. Howard Dean failed. In both cases they had opportunities where they controlled all three branches of government. Is it more insane to try and build an independent party or to keep going back to the same power source that keeps letting you down? Beyond health care, does anyone really think either party recognizes the economic reality of most people? Is living paycheck to paycheck more than just a distant memory for those in office? There are good people in Montpelier, but the class consciousness of the legislature is non-existent. If we are going to change directions. If we're serious about ending the war and gaining energy independence. If we want a sustainable economy. If we believe health care is a right and protecting public schools is essential. If we want to see workers' rights protected. If we believe in democratic unions in the workplace. If we are going to honor our obligation to future generations - there is no choice. An independent, populist political party firmly based in the grassroots is essential. It's not the express path, but time has demonstrated one doesn't exist. I'm grateful many Vermonters are willing to take on this difficult task. The issues are too important to leave in the hands of the corporate parties. We should learn from history. We should break open the two-party system and treat our state to a vigorous debate. What other choice do we have?

Tired of politics as usual?

Channel 3's Andy Potter asked for Anthony Pollina's reaction to the entry of another candidate into the race for governor.  His response:  "If those people who are interested in politics as usual, those people who think that what goes on in Montpelier is going just fine, they may vote for someone else. But people who are ready for something different, who are saying we're tired of party politics, we're tired of politics as usual, those people are going to vote for me. And there's a lot of those people out there -- enough to win the election." I'm tired of politics as usual.  I want someone to represent me.  The last six years have been wasted and it's time for real change.

Bennington Sick Building Returns

The Bennington Banner today reports that state workers handling files from the state building on Veteran's Memorial Drive (the "Bennington Sick Building"), may be getting sick from those files. Though now temporarily housed in Douglas-donor-contracted modular offices on site, workers are reporting respiratory ailments believed to be contracted from files that were moved over, but cleared as safe. You'll remember last year the administration did a poor job initially of handing the problem.  In an election summer, perhaps the response will be more...responsible.

Remembering Workers' Memorial Day

April 28th is internationally known as Workers' Memorial Day. According to statistics provided by the Vermont Workers' Center, every day more than 15 workers are killed on the job in the United States; nearly 6,000 workers lose their lives on the job each year and more than 4 million workers are injured or made ill on the job every year in the US. The most recent statistics from Vermont show that in 2006, 14 workers lost their lives on the job. On April 28, I hosted a press conference with the Vermont Workers' Center to help bring attention to Workers' Memorial Day. The event included representatives from each office of our Congressional delegation, the Vermont Department of Labor, several union representatives, and family members of workers who had died on the job – in particular, Michelle Lewis, who also helped organize the event. Workers' Memorial Day is an opportunity to recognize those who have been killed, injured, and fallen ill on the job – and to consider how we can work together to improve workplace safety. I appreciate the efforts of the Vermont Workers' Center to increase awareness about this issue.
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