• Labor continues to line up for TJ Donovan
    Vermont Press Bureau | July 02,2012
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    Adding to a list of earlier union endorsements, the Vermont State Employees Association is backing TJ Donovan, his campaign announced Thursday afternoon.

    The state workers’ union represents over 6,000 employees.

    “For too long Vermonters have gone without an attorney general who understands what working and middle-class Vermonters go through day in and day out, and who appreciates the essential role state workers play in our state,” said John Reese, president of VSEA, in a written statement. “The men and women of VSEA are supporting TJ in the Democratic primary for attorney general because we’re confident he’ll be an unflinching supporter of worker’s rights; an active watchdog of government contractors; and a vocal advocate for the labor movement in an era of nationwide attacks on public employees and unions.”

    Donovan has also picked up endorsements from the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont, the Vermont AFL-CIO, the Vermont Troopers Association, the Vermont Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Vermont Sheriffs’ Association.

    According to the Donovan campaign, the groups represent about 15,000 members statewide.

    Donovan, the Chittenden County state’s attorney, is trying to unseat 15-year incumbent Bill Sorrell in the Democratic primary in late August.

    In a primary that could draw fewer than 40,000 voters, unions could play a decisive role in the outcome if they come out in force for Donovan.


    They don’t have a single member in Vermont, but Service Employees International Union is certainly generating some buzz here. And not all of it good.

    A chapter of SEIU — 1199 SEIU Health Care Workers East, to be specific — has descended on Vermont with a wad of cash and an itch to spend. The 350,000-member group wants to be a player in the single-payer debate, and they’re reportedly ready to drop somewhere in the six-figure range to fund a mass media campaign under the banner of their newly minted 501(c)4, “Vermont Leads.”

    So what’s the deal?

    SEIU says there’s no ulterior motive. They think single-payer will be good for their members, and that if Vermont adopts a first-in-the-nation example, then the states in which they do represent workers will soon follow suit.

    Some, however, worry there may be some strings attached to the dough.

    SEIU next year will lead a lobbying effort aimed at passing legislation that would allow 5,000 home care workers in Vermont to form a union. If the bill makes it into law, SEIU will be trying hard to win the workers.

    Rival unions say the SEIU’s sudden generosity is aimed at winning over high-profile politicians — like Gov. Peter Shumlin — as they lay the groundwork for their more self-interested goals.

    And at least one longtime single-payer advocate says the introduction of out-of-state money from a special interest group threatens to corrode the integrity that has until now been a true people’s movement.

    The infighting became public last week when a couple of local news outlets — this one included — reported on the arrival of the newest, and best-funded, player in the single-payer landscape.

    All sides got a talking to last Thursday from insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter when Vermont Leads threw its formal launch party.

    Potter, a hero in the single-payer community for laying bare some of the ruthless tactics of private insurers, said he read those local stories about SEIU’s arrival and was concerned to see critics lobbing grenades.

    “How many of you have heard the expression ‘United we stand, divided we fall?’” Potter asked a crowd of single-payer advocates. “Well go to a tattoo parlor soon — get that tattooed on you.”

    Dissent within the ranks, Potter warned, is the surest way to kill the momentum behind single-payer. By publicly undermining the integrity of the SEIU’s new organization, Potter said, well-meaning advocates play into the hands of people who want to see single-payer blocked.

    “There will be times when you probably have disagreements, but please don’t air your dirty laundry in public. It’s important you don’t do that,” Potter said.

    That may be difficult advice to follow as SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a division of AFL-CIO, begin what could be a hard-fought battle to represent the 5,000 home care workers that could be up for grabs by the middle of next year.

    “The other side is very much developing a strategy,” Potter said. “Don’t give them any ammunition. Do the right thing: Stick together.”
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