Category Archives: Labor

The Watchdog labors mightily and brings forth a mouse

The readership of this blog has been growing rapidly of late. Part of the new crowd, to judge from the Comments and my Twitter feed, is comprised of conservatives who apparently read this stuff as a form of aerobic exercise: Stimulate the heart rate through aggravation.

One brave Tweeter recently responded to my disparaging comments about Phil Scott’s letter touting “concerning reports,” anonymous, that the Shumlin administration was trying to shoehorn political job-holders into regular state positions.

Scott has kept quiet about the letter ever since, so methinks he realized he had no evidence beyond, according to his office, one single inside source.

(Either that, or somebody told him to STFU because Jim Douglas did exactly that during his exit from office.)

This Tweeter referred to a report on Vermont Watchdog about the allegations, and cited it as the kind of quality journalism that I’d failed to produce.

Well, as you already know, Watchdog is a place where they spell “quality” with a “K”, but I thought I’d better take a look at the article.

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Matt Dunne gets a major boost

I suppose they couldn’t change the timetable, but two of Vermont’s biggest unions picked a bad time to release their endorsements for governor and lieutenant governor. They were revealed on Tuesday, when practically all eyes were turned toward the last round of presidential primaries — and the few remaining eyes were focused on Governor Shumlin’s veto of S.230 and the legislative effort to rewrite the bill or override the veto.

But let’s not allow the nods to vanish into the mists of history just yet, because they are likely to carry great weight in our new, improved, low-turnout August primary.

The Vermont State Employees Association and the Vermont Labor Council AFL-CIO both opted for Matt Dunne for governor, and David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor. Last week, the VSEA’s legislative committee recommended Galbraith to its members, but the board of trustees went with Dunne after taking a straw poll among the union membership.

In both races, the unions opted for the person least associated with the Shumlin administration and the Democratic legislative caucuses. I guess that’s not surprising, given VSEA’s very contentious relationship with the administration. Just think of it as another of Shumlin’s little gifts to the Democrats who would succeed him.

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I don’t think Phil Scott’s going to get that VSEA endorsement

Oh look, here’s Mr. Leadership, Phil Scott, ducking out on another potentially uncomfortable interaction. He’s still resolutely passing on events staged by Rights and Democracy. And now, this week, the Vermont State Employees Association held forums for the gubernatorial candidates, seeking their views on issues related to the state’s workforce.

And guess who didn’t show up.

Lt. Gov Phil Scott, who is running for governor, was invited but did not attend either forum.

That’s right, kids. Democrats Sue Minter, Matt Dunne, and Peter Galbraith all made it, as did Republican Bruce Lisman. But not our brave and fearless would-be Leader. I guess there was a chili cook-off somewhere.

If he couldn’t be bothered to give a little face time to the employees he’d like to lead, at least he took the time (or someone on his staff did) to answer some written questions from VSEA.

His answers, however, are unlikely to earn him any union love. He sometimes sounds more like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker than the moderate Republican he purports to be. Otherwise, well, he ducks and dives a lot. Hey, it’s leadership the Phil Scott Way!

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New York: two giant steps toward a progressive economy

Andrew Cuomo gets a lot of grief in progressive circles. New York’s Governor has engaged in a petty spat with progressive New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio. He created an ethics commission that began cleaning up the Augean stable of Albany politics — and then kneecapped the panel when things got a little too close for comfort. He’s been accused of excessive coziness with Wall Street and big business.

But damn if he didn’t just deliver a couple of big policy initiatives that seem downright unattainable in allegedly progressive Vermont.

On the last day of March, the New York State Legislature finalized a budget deal that included not only a promise to raise the minimum wage to $15, but also the nation’s newest — and by far its strongest and most comprehensive — bill mandating paid-family-leave time for most employees.

That’s right. While Vermont politicos are patting each other on the back for passing a much smaller minimum-wage hike and a minimal paid-sick-leave measure, New York has leapfrogged us (and the nation) on both.

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The importance of diversity: three object lessons

Diversity is a lot more than a liberal feel-good cause, a way to shoehorn visible minorities into public and private institutions just for the sake of it. Or just to disenfranchise white heterosexual men.

When universities argue against affirmative action bans, it’s not because they’re lefties; it’s because they realize a diverse student body (and faculty) makes their institutions stronger.

When I look at a political contest and see two roughly equivalent candidates, I give preference to the woman, the minority, the member of the LGBTQ community, because their perspectives make our politics better.

We have three object lessons from this week’s news, two right here in Vermont, each illustrating the importance of diversity.

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Your Daily Free Press, a shell of its former self

A bit of unintended irony in Friday’s Burlington Free Press. Page A13 featured a nice article about the awards given to the Freeploid by the Vermont Press Association.

Which, okay, whatever. The Free Press ought to take home a bunch of awards from the VPA. It is, by far, the biggest newspaper in the state. For the Freeploid, winning VPA awards is kind of like a 14-year-old faking his age and playing in Little League. Substantial built-in advantage.

But then, on page C3, there was a prime example of the Free Press’ diminished status. The page contained a column of Business Briefs, a series of items ripped straight from press releases and deployed to occupy space on a day when ad sales fall a bit short.

The first of the three started like this:

Walmart gives pay raises to 753 in Vermont

Walmart gave the largest single-day, privatesector [sic] pay increase ever on March 10 to more than 1.2 million Walmart and Sam’s Club employees in the United States, including 753 in Vermont. All employees hired before Jan. 1, 2016, will earn at least $9.60 an hour.

Well, isn’t that nice. How generous of an enterprise not known for its generosity.

But wait. Didn’t Vermont’s minimum wage just go up?

Why yes, in fact, it did. On January 1, the state minimum wage increased to… wait for it… $9.60 an hour.

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Phil Scott is right about an “affordability crisis.” He is dead wrong about the causes.

Our Lieutenant Governor is basing his gubernatorial campaign on “the affordability crisis,” the very real phenomenon that has more and more Vermonters pinching every penny and losing ground in areas like saving for retirement and college tuition. Of course, being a Republican, he defines “the affordability crisis” as a matter of burdensome taxation and enterprise-crushing government.

Those may be contributing factors, but they’re not much more than cherries on our affordability sundae. The real, fundamental problem is wage stagnation for the middle and working classes. They’re getting the big squeeze from a financial system that’s benefiting the wealthy at everyone else’s expense. Tax pressures on working Americans are a relatively small factor in the affordability crisis.

And Phil Scott’s agenda will do little to address the fundamental challenges we face. Some of his ideas would actually make things worse.

Evidence galore for the real affordability crisis can be found in Public Assets Institute’s recent report, “State of Working Vermont 2015.” The topline:

… the gross state product as grown since 2010, with a slight dip in 2013. But the rewards of Vermont’s recovery concentrated at the top of the income scale, while everyone else lost ground. In the decade since 2004 median household income fell from $58,328 inflation-adjusted dollars to $54,166.

If the benefits of economic expansion had been shared equally, PAI reports, “median household income would have been nearly $62,000 in 2014 — $7,680 higher than it was.” Under that scenario, we wouldn’t have a middle-class “affordability crisis.”

And it would be impossible for Phil Scott or anyone else to cut taxes enough to make up for that.

Coming up: Charts!

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