By James Haslam
In a joint letter to the Associated Press (AP), Vermont Congressional delegation of Sen. Jim Jeffords, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Bernie Sanders expressed that they were “stunned, outraged and saddened by the summary dismissal” of longtime Vermont AP Bureau Chief Christopher Graff.
Chris Graff was a longtime AP employee, who by all accounts was doing his job, had not been informed he wasn’t doing his job and the AP did not cite financial reasons for the firing. In fact, the AP seems to not have provided any reason at all. Unfortunately, no one should be particularly stunned by this.
Everyday our Vermont Workers’ Rights Hotline receives calls of stunned and outraged Vermonters who have just experienced the same thing – the unjust legal realities of “at-will” employment. At-will employment means that if you do not have an employment contract your employer can end your employment for almost any reason, including no reason at all.
Our only hope is that the highly publicized firing of Mr. Graff and the outrage that has followed will shed some light on to the same plight experienced by thousands of Vermonters each year. Where at-will employment is the law of the land, the only way to have any job security is to organize with your co-workers to form a union. That is why it is so important for workers who want job security and the ability to have a voice about our working conditions to organize unions. It is also why it is so important for our elected officials, faith leaders and community members to support workers’ rights to organize.
It is also important to note that “at-will” employment is not the law of the land everywhere. Many other countries have what is called “just cause” employment policies, where there have to be good reasons to be fired, such as unsatisfactory job performance or financial reasons. In fact, if Chris Graff was working in Canada, AP’s firing would be illegal.
It should be noted that the news of massive protests and strikes by students and the labor movement in France (often reported to us by the AP) is in an effort to fight a new labor bill that would make at-will employment effective for young workers. We should be in the streets demanding an end to “at-will” employment in our country.
I hope more Vermonters will become just as outraged when any worker is wrongfully fired, support workers organizing unions and make “just cause” employment the law of the land. Call the Vermont Workers’ Rights Hotline to learn more toll-free at 866-229-0009.
James Haslam is the Director of the Vermont Workers’ Center – Jobs With Justice, www.workerscenter.org