I have worked in the water department for the city of Barre for 29 years. I live in Barre and am the president of my union, AFSCME Local 1369.
I first learned about the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) in 1998, when the Barre City School Board wanted to outsource the Barre Elementary School’s custodial staff to a private company. I’ll never forget the meeting the School Board held on outsourcing the custodians at the Barre Library. The Workers’ Center helped fill the room with parents and community members until it was standing room only. These folks testified their support for keeping these jobs public, city jobs. Ultimately, the board voted not to outsource the custodians. VWC’s support was critical to that victory.
Since then, I have kept on watching the Workers’ Center as it continues to grow. The VWC is a critical part of the labor movement in the United States. It’s also part of building a new movement to improve life for working people who don’t have unions. I remember getting calls from the VWC, asking for my support for raising the minimum wage in Vermont up from $5.25 an hour, a wage that leaves people in poverty, up to a livable wage.
The Workers’ Center was there when the Green Mountain Power workers went on strike in 2001. VWC brought dozens of people down to join the workers on the picket lines for three frigid January weeks. When the Berlin Health & Rehab nursing home workers were trying to form their union against a nasty for-profit multinational corporation, the VWC did an extraordinary job of including the issues of patient care, short staffing and poverty wages in the community discussion. In 2005, when Barre City workers were facing layoffs, dozens of Workers’ Center members joined us at a City Council meeting holding signs painted with the words “No Layoffs.” These actions showed the meaning of solidarity — of people supporting one another.
In 2008, our local union, AFSCME Local 1369, was proud to endorse the VWC’s Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign. We have witnessed this campaign change what was politically possible in our state. At the federal level today, healthcare is so much about party politics and blame games, instead of being focused on finding real solutions to get everybody the healthcare they need. I’m so glad we are moving towards a universal healthcare system in Vermont. Vermont can and must lead the way toward real, universal healthcare that leaves no one behind. We couldn’t do it without the VWC.
This past year, I joined the VWC and hundreds of other workers to testify at a hearing on passing paid sick days legislation in Vermont. One of my most cherished benefits as a unionized worker is paid sick days. I had a detached retina last winter and had to use my paid sick days. You’ll never know what’s going to happen and it’s something that’s there for you. I will be even prouder to live in Vermont after we establish paid sick days for all workers, and it will be another reason I have to be thankful for the VWC’s work.
I really believe we are all in this together, and that we have to act that way. That is what the Workers’ Center is all about. We are so fortunate to have a truly grass-roots organization of working people like the Workers’ Center in Vermont. I hope people can join me for the 15th anniversary celebration this Saturday, November 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. down at the Old Labor Hall at 46 Granite St. in Barre, to celebrate their achievements and look forward to many more.
More information about the VWC’s 15th Anniversary Dinner Celebration can be found at workerscenter.org.
Randy Edmunds lives in Barre and is the President of AFSCME Local 1369.MORE IN Commentary
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