Candidates court organized labor

June 5, 2010, WCAX, Alexei Rubenstein

South Burlington, Vermont – June 5, 2010

Vermont labor union leaders are gathering over the weekend for their annual conference and to make endorsements of candidates for this fall’s election. Labor officials say health care, job security and other organized labor causes have taken a hit over the past several years and many organizers see this upcoming election as crucial to their cause.

The parade of major and minor candidates for statewide office came out in force — to court organized labor. “So I’ve been a long friend of labor — I appreciate your support and I ask for your support and I ask for your support in this campaign,” said Deb Markowitz, Democrat for Governor.

With most Democrats and Progressives seeing eye to eye on a core set of labor issues — expanded healthcare, education and employment rights — that left room for swipes at the The Douglas administration.

“The fundamental respect that has disappeared in this Vermont administration is really distressing to a lot of us, and I would be very happy as governor to make sure that’s the first thing that goes back on the table,” said Susan Bartlett, Democrat for Governor.

“I believe we have to stop the attack on our public school system – stop the attack on our teachers,” said Steve Howard, Democrat for Lt. Governor.

That anti-incumbent message met receptive ears. Gov. Douglas has been criticized for turning a blind eye when it comes to some labor issues — whether the plight of laid off state workers — or in some cases — the private sector. “The Governor has been to IBM every couple of months and when there’s something that happened like pay cuts or job cuts — he’s non-existant,” said Earl Mongeon of Alliance@IBM.

The AFL-CIO endorsed progressive candidate Anthony Pollina for Governor last time around. Seen by some as a spoiler, he finished a distant second to Governor Douglas. For progressive candidate Martha Abbott — endorsement isn’t even an issue this time around. “Since we do not want to see Brian Dubie become Governor in November, I am seeking the nomination in order to decline it — as our way of not running against the person that wins the democratic nomination,” Abbott said.

Despite a long decline in union membership in recent years, labor officials insist they remain relevant and claim that seven out of 10 union households tend to vote for endorsed candidates. “The folks that have representation – that have the ability to negotiate about their working conditions and their wages have the ability to preserve some of the rights that other people in Vermont and around the country enjoy,” said Jennifer Henry with United Professions ATF Vermont.

“We want someone who will stand up for working families, who will stand up for unemployment insurance rights. We want someone who understands the needs of Vermonters – the rights for single payer healthcare,” said Jill Charbonneau, Vermont AFL-CIO’s Acting President.

Overall, the labor convention drew more than a dozen candidates for office — including five democrats and one progressive running for Governor. Top Republicans on the ticket were invited but did not attend. The groups executive committee will meet Sunday to make their endorsements.

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