Pardon my sparse posting of late. Tweaked my back digging the potato patch. Limiting my keyboard time.
Bad, but not at all unexpected, news on the labor front. The Vermont Press Bureau’s Other Guy, Josh O’Gorman:
Negotiations between state workers and the Shumlin administration have broken down and are heading to mediation, according to the employees’ union.
Not unexpected because (a) the state’s budget is tight as a drumhead, and (b) the Shumlin administration has made a habit of hard-lining the VSEA. In the bargaining room this is standard procedure, but Shumlin also likes to take it public:
Shumlin said agreeing to the terms proposed by the VSEA would be “unconscionable.”
“That position asks for a 13.4-percent pay increase over two years, which would cost Vermont taxpayers $70.6 million,” Shumlin said. “It’s beyond me how anyone could find that position reasonable. At a time when many Vermonters are not seeing their wages rise, it would be unconscionable to agree to pay increases that are more than quadruple the rate of inflation and would add substantial pressure to an already-tight budget.”
Hmm. Unconscionable, check. Unreasonable, check. For good measure, he adds “intractable.” Also, according to VSEA President Steve Howard, Shumlin is substantially (and “disingenuously”) overstating the union’s actual pay demands, which are nothing like 13.4 percent.
Remind me again, is it the Democrats who are the party of labor?
I suppose so, but Shumlin likes to kick the unions around. Which, okay, I guess he wants to preserve his centrist bona fides, but this is one of the most irksome aspects of his governorship. When he slams the VSEA for normal negotiating tactics, or when he comes out in favor of a ban on teacher strikes (as he did this year), he is lending credence to a key Republican talking point: that unions are greedy and that public sector unions are vampires draining the lifeblood out of hardworking Vermonters.
The Republicans don’t need any help making this point, thank you very much. They’ve already managed to convince a large number of working Americans that unions are the enemy. When, in fact, the decline of unions has paralleled the decline in middle-class purchasing power. Funny, that.
In sheer political terms, the Democratic Party needs the unions, now more than ever. They’re the only institutions that can reliably fundraise on behalf of liberal causes. They’re the only ones that can come anywhere near matching the money power of the One Percent. And they are also reliable sources of volunteers to fill the ranks of Democratic campaigns.
And next year, Vermont Democrats are going to need union backing that is engaged and energized, not reluctant or perfunctory. So, with all due respect, I wish the Governor would STFU on the union bashing.
And the first Democratic candidate who promises to work with the unions to make government work better instead of picking fights with them, will win a big point in my book.