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February 22, 2011

Vermont Labor Leaders and Allies Rally in Support of Wisconsin Workers

Rallyphoto Nearly 250 people braved bitter temperatures Tuesday to stand in solidarity with thousands of unionized workers in Wisconsin, who are fighting to keep their rights to collectively bargain.

People held signs that read "Unite to Fight for the Right to Bargain" and "Unions: Kickin' Ass for the Working Class," among others.

Given that the rally was held on the Statehouse steps, a parade of politicians gave short statements to the chilled participants who stood on the snow-covered steps.

Gov. Peter Shumlin briefly addressed the crowd, as did House Majority Leader Lucy Leriche (D-Hardwick), Sen. Anthony Pollina (D/P-Washington), Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), Rep. Susan Hatch Davis (P-Washington) and Rep. Paul Poirier (I-Barre).

"The last time I checked, the middle class was the backbone of the economy," said Leriche to loud cheers. She also said there needed to be more support for union workers and the middle class.

There was one heckler in the crowd: "Put your money where your mouth is," shouted the woman, who then chided Leriche and lawmakers for cutting state jobs that provide direct mental health services.

Leriche said President Pro Tem John Campbell could not speak at rally, but was there in spirit. Campbell did briefly attend the rally. House Speaker Shap Smith did address the crowd.*

Afterward, one of the organizers said the rally was to stand in solidarity with the Wisconsin workers, not to take up grievances with individual lawmakers.

The pol who got the biggest cheer, however, was Pollina, perhaps followed by Pearson. Why?

They both talked about implementing an income tax surcharge on Vermonters in the state's two uppermost brackets. Many of those people will see lower taxes — totalling about $180 million — thanks to the extension of the tax cuts that were first put in place by Pres. George W. Bush and were recently extended by Pres. Barack Obama.

The surcharge would raise about $17 million, said Pearson.

"Public employees get pay cuts and needy people get service cuts, while millionaires get tax cuts," said Pollina. "We keep hearing that times are tough, but why is it when things are tough we make things even tougher for people making ends meet and give tax breaks to millionaires?"

Pollina said no one in Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., or Vermont want to talk about giving slightly lower tax breaks to the wealthiest residents to share some of the burden right now.

Pearson will introduce his legislation this week. The proposal would raise the top quintile's tax rate by 1.5 percent and the next lower quintile by 1 percent, said Pearson.

The effective tax rate, however, or the amount they will actually pay, will only increase by eight-tenths of a percent for the top bracket and two-tenths of a percent for the next highest bracket, added Pollina.

Martha Allen, the president of the Vermont NEA, said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's "extreme radical agenda" would "set employee-employer relations back decades" if he is successful.

Though unionized workers in Wisconsin have agreed to financial concessions — including paying more toward health care and retirement benefits — that isn't enough for Gov. Walker. He wants to eliminate workers' ability to collectively bargain, essentially doing away with unions in his state. In response, tens of thousands of workers have descended upon the state capital from around Wisconsin — and the country.

Mari Cordes, a registered nurse and president of the Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals Union at Fletcher Allen Health Care, is returning to Vermont today after spending several days in Wisconsin rallying with her union brothers and sisters.

Is the rally putting a chink in Walker's armor?

"I think what I see is, regardless of whether there is a chink or not, the uprising is growing," said Cordes. "The public sector and private sector workers, community members and spiritual workers see this as an attack on their community and the well being of their community at large."

Cordes spent last night inside the state capitol with hundreds of firefighters and other union workers who have been camping inside the building. She chowed on pizza from a local shop that has been taking orders from as far away as Egypt to feed the protestors. People almost all 50 states, including Vermont, have ordered pies from Ian's Pizza.

* This post has been updated to reflect that it was President Pro Tem John Campbell, and not House Speaker Shap Smith, who didn't address the crowd.

Hey...Shap Smith DID speak at the rally!

""The last time I checked, the middle class was the backbone of the economy," said Leriche to loud cheers. She also said there needed to be more support for union workers and the middle class."

Blah, blah, blah.

"They both talked about implementing an income tax surcharge on Vermonters in the state's two uppermost brackets."

Yeah, good luck with that.

One of these days, politicians who build their reputations by taxing the rich will have no one left to tax...because 'the rich' will do what so many of them from NY, NJ, etc. have done, and move to states with lower taxes. Don't think they'll do it? Why, check NY's ex-governor Patterson, who declared that he was wrong, "...we're actually losing money as so many high net worth individuals are moving out of state".

People can only take so much of the 'privilege' of living here. Heed this warning, Socialists: Your philosophy only works until you run out of other people's money.

@one of these days - the blue ribbon tax commission said explicitly that VT has more high income earners coming into the state than are leaving. Hey, but why let the facts get in the way of your propaganda.

PS - citing gvovernor Patterson as a source only hurts your case

"said Leriche to loud cheers. She also said there needed to be more support for union workers and the middle class."

Talk about political pandering. Union workers are the middle class? There needs to be MORE support for union workers? Give me a break, the unions get all they want, sure they make concessions but when you start at the top you can afford to. The unions, specifically the VNEA are bankrupting this country, and they are the primary reason their members do not have the respect and support they deserve. The union comes off as uncaring and greedy, when by and large the majority they represent are good people.

As for the Wisconsin issue, I find the democrats ploy to keep the bill from being voted on to be absurd. They were elected to do a job, they are shirking that. The controlling party was elected in good faith. Go take the vote, if CB is done away with so be it. If the public supports the union they will vote differently in the next election. It is a corruption of Democracy, and Walker needs to take the next step and send out police to escort them back to the capital as is his right.

WOW, a group of VT teachers show their support for their Wisconsin counterparts. Gee, thanks Vermont, your support means sooooooooo much.

Just for once, I would like to see the tree huggers and supposed community do-gooders up here just mind their own damn business. Really, no one cares what you think about other teachers, oil spills in the Gulf, or anything else happening anywhere else. Please just sit down, shut up, stop trying to get on what passes for local tv, and mind your own damn business.

I've been around long enough to remember that in the late eighties the Vermont NEA raised the issue of the State underfunding pensions. At the time it was virtually laughed off by the Senate. "The State will always honor it's obligations" is what I seem to recall reading in the paper.
I think about that a lot these days.

"the blue ribbon tax commission said explicitly that VT has more high income earners coming into the state than are leaving."

They absolutely did not say that. They said that the average income of someone migrating into Vermont is 18% higher than that of someone leaving. Cold state, retirees leave, younger working people come to ski - what a surprise.

If you don't think the outflow of high income earners - as well as resistance to move here, which is untrackable - is a problem, you're out of your mind.

The states or any business for that matter would run much more efficiently without the unions. Like the mafia they are forcing people to pay for protection they no longer need and no longer want. They were good in their time but that time was up many years ago.

An increase for the two highest tax brackets in Vermont is DOA. Gov. Shumlin has stated many times that he doesn't want to raise the income tax in Vermont and let's remember that he would be signing such a bill into law going against his own economic interests. I'm personally not opposed to an increase, but I just don't see it happening. It will just be stuck in committee as most bills end up.

I look at teacher salaries in Chittenden (both CVU and the local school) as reported in the town meeting book and I see teacher salaries of $80k. Plus significant health insurance and retirement benefits. For a 9-month work year and a lot of vacation time during those 9 months. Average Vermont teacher salary statewide is over $46k. (

How does that compare to the economic status of the average Vt. worker who is PAYING for those teachers? Avg. per capita income: $38,000 (Wikipedia, InfoPlease), and I do not know if that includes the benefits the teachers get, but I assume not. So I assume The average Vermonter would kill for the teachers job.

Can someone remind me again why these people should threaten to go on strike because they want a guaranteed annual salary increase and they don't want to pay any portion of their own health insurance? Can someone tell me why they should be unionized in the first place?

It took a long time to come home to roost but FDR warned us about the problems with public service employee unions. He thought they should be illegal as they would have too much power in the bargaining process.

While the public sector unions want this to be a fight about all unions it isn't. This is not about private sector unions and is not about the backbone of America the private sector middle class. This is strictly a fight between we the taxpayers and public sector unions. The taxpayers and middle class are being eaten alive by the cost of government and that needs to change. It appears that the change is not going to happen voluntarily so what Wisconsin is doing is necessary.

Pulic sector unions have too much power. It robs the people of their right to control their own destiny by what they do in the voting booth. Now we must retake control.

Teacher's earning are way past what their training warrants, moreover what is causing the most problems is the automatic raises. Teacher pay should be based on merit, not on time served. It is however, the prevailing wisdom in education. Look at test scores, or even your average cashier that can't figure out change without the register. Gone are the days of earning something, now you get raises/diplomas if you hang around long enough. No wonder we now have the entitlement generation. They are TAUGHT they don't have to work for things, they just need to show up and they get rewarded.

As for income tax, I do not agree with raising taxes on anyone. The state Constitution provides EVERY citizen is to pay their portion... Taxes should be equal for everyone. Get rid of all the fees, excise taxes, etc and institute a single flat tax for all. No long tax forms, no deductions, no prebates.... you take your income multiply it by the % needed to run the state and you mail it in on a post card to Montpelier. By giving out deductions, credits, tax cuts government hides the true cost of what they are spending. When people can see that there will be a much larger outcry for fiscal responsibility. When people see that 2 culverts in Monkton cost them X dollars, or when they see that Y program costs them X dollars then they can truly make an informed decision. As it is now, who has a clue how much $2Million grant to VTA costs each VTer?

You know why all those teachers were in Montpelier protesting? They are on vacation this week. An ELEVEN day vacation. Winter break. Nice, right? Look, unions are fading. They are dinosaurs. Relics of the past. Created during a time when workers were actually treated badly, the industrial revolution. And during that time, they served their purpose, and they served it well. The teachers would be better served being judged and rated on their ability to teach, and then given raises based on performance.

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