VT GOP Advocating Race to the Bottom for Workers

The headline over Vermont House Minority Leader Rep. Don Turner’s “Legislature is Anti-Jobs” could just as easily have read “Legislature is Pro-Worker” in Monday’s Saint Albans Messenger. In it, the leader of the House GOP railed against last year’s increase in the minimum wage, using payroll taxes to shore up medicaid reimbursements and paid sick days.

“State government should not decide what benefits are most important for employers to offer and by doing so we remove the flexibility that Vermonters and their employers have.” – Rep. Don Turner

What about the flexibility for a working mother to choose to stay home with a sick child? What about the flexibility for a food-service worker to stay home instead of toughing it out and serving it up when they should be home sick? What about the flexibility of being able to afford to buy a few more groceries, and maybe eat out once in a while because you make $9.50/hr instead of $8.75?

I owned a coffee shop and bakery for six years, and I always paid my employees more than minimum wage. I had better, happier, more productive employees. I’ve never bought the argument that racing to the bottom and creating low-wage, low-benefit policies is going to be good for Vermont’s economy. I know it wouldn’t be good for the lowest-paid workers in our state.

Rep. Turner wasn’t the only House Republican to churn out anti-labor, anti-worker rhetoric yesterday.  

My own Saint Albans Rep. Corey Parent’s latest legislative update bemoaned the relegation of one of his favorite bills to “legislative purgatory” on the committee wall.

One of the most pressing issues I’ve heard from many of you is the need for our Department of Labor to define better what it means to be an “employee”.  Currently, the State of Vermont considers an independent subcontractor that does similar work to the contractor that hires them for a job an employee of the contractor.  That means the contractor has to pay unemployment and workers compensation insurance for the services performed by the subcontractor.

Really? He’s heard from “many” constituents that they want to make sure the people who hire them don’t have to pay for Worker’s Compensation insurance and unemployment? I find it hard to believe that working people are advocating for a decrease in benefits. I find it easier to believe that this kind of policy-which erodes the supports for a strong labor force and middle class- is right out of the ALEC playbook, and not coming from Vermonters.

The Democrats took a bit of a licking in 2014, primarily over dissatisfaction (on both sides) about the progress of healthcare reform and the rising cost of education. Being the party in power, it makes sense that we bore the frustration. Vermont’s Republicans, at least in the House, say that they have listened to those frustrated Vermonters. Why does it seem like they heard a Scott Walker speech instead?

Vermont has a lot to be proud of, and one of those things is a tradition of strong support for working people. I think if Reps. Turner and Parent listen harder they’ll hear Vermont workers asking for better wages and better jobs. At least, that’s what I hear.

About Mike McCarthy

I'm a guitar-playing Democrat living in Saint Albans, VT with my wife Steph and my daughter Molly. I represented Saint Albans in the VT House in 2013-2014. I care about good government, and a safe, healthier world for all of us. I work for an awesome solar company and love helping Vermonters re-power our communities.

11 thoughts on “VT GOP Advocating Race to the Bottom for Workers

  1. I think you know that this anti-worker rhetoric isn’t limited to just Vermont Republicans. They are teaming with a gaggle of Vermont Dems who are blindly agreeing again and again to support and lead on the Gov’s slice-and-dice fixes. For some odd reason, they are scared to death to propose ways to generate the amount of revenue Vermont needs. Like Public Assets’ showed, spending has gone DOWN in Vermont. Cutting and cutting ain’t the answer. If Vermont is going to rely on its tourism industry, then 50 cents or $1 on a night’s stay seems reasonable. But that might piss off the travel and tourism industry and we only like pissing off state workers.  

    Oh. It’s not like paid sick days sailed through on the wings of the Dem majority. It was a slog–and it didn’t have to be.

  2. I owned a coffee shop and bakery for six years, and I always paid my employees more than minimum wage. I had better, happier, more productive employees. I’ve never bought the argument that racing to the bottom and creating low-wage, low-benefit policies is going to be good for Vermont’s economy.

    I note that you specifically mention that you paid your previous employees “more than minimum wage”. I’m curious, how much more were you paying them to make them “better, happier, more productive employees”? Had there been a higher minimum wage mandated by the state at that time, would you have paid your employees more than the minimum, regardless, in order to keep them “better, happier, more productive employees”? And, as you appear to support state-mandated paid-time off, did you afford your employees paid time off, as well as pay over minimum when you ran your coffee shop and bakery?

    Thanks for your consideration.

  3. None of our employees were paid minimum wage, but our hourly ranged from $9-plus tips for servers up to $15/hr for full-time bakery staff. Of course my assertion that they were happier, more productive employees because of our relatively worker-friendly environment is just my anecdotal opinion from one tiny VT business. However, when you look at the difference between Costco employees and Wal-Mart employees it’s hard to agree that we should allow the anti-worker, poverty wages like those at Wal-Mart to persist and be subsidized by tax-payers. At Cosmi we did not have a formal time-off accrual, but I think we could have been served well by formalizing a paid time-off policy. It would have been nice if the playing field were leveled a bit so that our competition did as well. We did tell sick employees to stay home and paid them anyway in many cases. I wasn’t a big fan of the Paid Sick Days bill that came out of the House General committee last year because it created a somewhat complex accrual and usage system that would have been hard to comply with for small employers (like I used to be). This year’s bill sets a pretty low barrier to paid leave entry for small businesses that still gives workers the chance to earn some paid leave.  

  4. About how we’re all subsidizing low-wage workers. My shop was called Cosmic Bakery and Cafe. “Cosmi” was a typo. I know I had employees (including myself for a couple of years) who were on VHAP  and/or Catamount, both state-subsidized healthcare plans. I know I wasn’t paying a livable wage. How could anyone who runs a coffee shop in this economy? I did do better by most of my employees than many places could. This is something few small employers are willing to talk about (and I hope you’ll give me a little credit for being candid).

    The reason we need big reforms at the national and state level in worker compensation, taxation and social safety net benefits is that it is literally impossible to provide a living wage and at the same time price competitively in many industries (especially retail and food-service). If we leveled the playing field by having worker-friendly policies and supported workers who want to organize than we would all benefit from a healthier more stable workforce. Right now, it’s every business and every worker for him or herself.

    We don’t alienate small businesses with higher minimum wages- my entire point was that most small businesses treat their employees better than the Wal-Marts of the world anyway. There are Democrats who have lost their way on these issues, but clearly our House GOP Reps are doing their best to keep wages and benefits down- and they’re proud of it.  

  5. In the house at least, the committee leadership and members who took aim at the state employees, their contract, their labor organization, and their bottom line…..

    Was not those nasty Republicans.    

  6. Since we can’t mandate a livable wage, we should focus on those budget items that make it so tough for low- and moderate-income families to make ends meet. That means a much greater investment in affordable housing (perpetually affordable housing like the land trust model); affordable early childhood education (feds, state & families are all contributing; the only major party not in the game is business, which is odd because the labor market doesn’t work without child care); and health care, among others.

    This is the social infrastructure that isn’t part of the State’s capital bill but is no less important than roads, bridges, and telecom.

    Taking pressure off these big ticket items will help make the available wages go farther.

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