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.