At the Vermont Workers’ Center 10th Anniversary Dinner last night, 150+ people celebrated ten years of struggle, recognized workers’ victories from the past year, and kicked off the VWC’s new Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign.

VWC solidarity for repeal of Act 82

Barre Education Association president John Pandolfo spoke about Act 82, an unnecessary, dangerous and confusing law on local school funding passed by the legislature in 2007, which would require two votes to pass many school budgets. The Vermont NEA has been campaigning for the law’s repeal, and the state house of representatives voted to repeal it in 2007; the repeal legislation is now sitting in the Senate.

VWC President Dawn Stanger presented 2008 Solidarity Awards to several groups of workers and community members who stood up for justice over the past year:

  • Fletcher Allen Nurse Midwives, members of UPV/AFT Local 5221 who successfully organized with parents and the community to keep the FA midwifery program.
  • Burlington School Support staff who are members of the Burlington Education Association and AFSCME Local 1343 who after a three year struggle have had a big livable wage victory.
  • Child Labor Education & Action – Vermont high school leaders of CLEA led a successful fight to win legislation for anti-sweatshop procurement policies for the State of Vermont. Their sweat-free legislation passed and they expect the governor to sign the bill tomorrow.
  • Rescue Inc., workers who organized with IAEP Local 48, part of SEIU – who did the hardest, most courageous and smartest things workers can do, withstood an anti-union campaign and successfully formed their union.
  • And finally, the workers contracted with Stanley Assoc., Northrup Grummon and Choctaw at the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, who withstood an intense anti-union campaign and won. Now more than 200 workers in Vermont and hundreds more in CA are UE members.

We also recognized two special groups of people, the “Unsung Heroes” and 2008 Solidarity School Graduates:

Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes: These our the folks who run the Hotline, put stamps on postcards, make the turnout calls, make the flyers, do the “grunt” work of movement building, the everyday, mundane tasks:

Joyce Werntgen, Andy Crawford, Tina Scanlon, Julie Winn, Nick Parrish, Jennifer Shewmake, Angela DiGuilio, John MacLean, Emma Gordon, Kate Kanelstein, Michelle Lewis, Renna Temple and finally Amanda Blatchely, who designed the beautiful Solidarity Report and Healthcare Is a Human Right logo, posters and bumperstickers.

2008 Solidarity School Graduates

2008 Solidarity School Graduates: These are the people who participated in our second annual Solidarity School, the Workers’ Center’s comprehensive leadership training. These skill-building trainings cover organizing one-on-one, talking to your co-workers, building strategic contract and community campaigns, and the People’s history of labor and social change.

2007 participants who came back to help lead in 2008: Marilyn Eldred, Jen Larsen and Rebecca Smith

2008 graduates: Nick Parrish, Chris Guros, Lynn Parrish, Michelle Lewis, Jennifer Shewmake, Angela DiGuilio, Emma Gordon, Kate Kanelstein, David Hamilton, Margaret Russell, Tim Billadeau, Linda Scrivens, Dottye Ricks, Amy Lester, Susan Hunter, Jeannette Weilland and Renna Temple

The youngest Solidarity School graduate, SLAP activist Renna Temple, addressed the audience and gave an inspiring speech about the real meaning of solidarity.

Finally, Erika Simard, a former Specialty Filaments worker, closed the program by telling of her harrowing experience with the healthcare system. After being laid off and losing her health insurance when Specialty Filaments closed, she realized that the drugs she needed to deal with her heart condition and keep her alive would cost more per month than her unemployment and training benefits. She concluded by introducing the VWC’s newest campaign, Healthcare Is a Human Right:

Under this title, Healthcare Is A Human Right, we will build a statewide action network capable of winning and building a real democracy, where we are organized enough and strong enough to make all policymakers do what is right. Here’s the real exciting part of this announcement, one year and a couple days from now, on May 1st 2009, there is going to be an enormous rally at the State House, with thousands of Vermonters demanding healthcare as a basic human right. That day is a Friday, and the rally is going to be in the middle of the day. We are going to ask everyone who is sick of the current healthcare crisis and insecurity that we all face, to call in sick that day, take a sick day, a community health day, and join us at the State House. Some business owners who agree with us will decide to shut their doors that day and join their employees in Montpelier. Busses and car pooling caravans will come from every part of the state, to declare Healthcare Is A Human Right. Many politicians say that they agree with this, that it is good in theory, but its not politically possible. With this historic rally and the new network of working families that pull it off, we will change what is politically possible. We will make the healthcare crisis, a crisis for politicians, by mobilizing thousands of Vermonters to join us. Throughout our History, Vermonters have been known for being front runners, so lets show them what we can do!

Erika Simard’s complete remarks >>

WCAX Coverage of the Rally Against Act 82 >>