Members of UE Locals 203 and 255 joined Vermonters from around the state on January 25 to tell the Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs Committee to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
UE members and others told the senators that legislation that would boost the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour over several years will improve their lives, and the lives of their co-workers, neighbors, families, and communities.
Local 255 steward Andrew Sullivan told the UE News, “Although I hadn't planned to testify, one of the organizers of the hearing told me that they wanted as many people to speak as possible, so I signed up. He said I could speak for as little as 10 seconds. While I was waiting for my turn, I found a link to a study on affordable housing on my phone.
“When it was my turn, I said that I'd been told that I could speak for just 10 seconds, so I would try to stick to it. Citing the study, I read a line from it off my phone. The 2015 study, by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, claimed that no one in any of the 50 states could afford a one-bedroom apartment by working a 40-hour week at minimum wage. I said that I knew it was true in Vermont. I told them that, for that reason, I was asking them to vote to raise the wage.”
Local 255 Vice President Emma Paradis told the committee that “I was born and raised in this community, and am part of a small handful of native Vermonters who has remained in the state after graduating college. I have been able to do so because I was privileged enough to graduate without college debt and am a union worker...
“I am grateful that as a union worker, I have the right to bargain with my employer for improved wages, healthcare and working conditions. As a member of the union negotiating committee, it is my personal responsibility to advocate for wages and benefits that reflect the rising costs of living and the quality of life our members work for and deserve.”
However, Paradis continued, “over the years, I have become aware and deeply concerned, that my neighbors are struggling. I see service workers who cannot afford to feed their families. I see health care workers who cannot afford health care. I see caregivers who cannot meet their own needs. I see people leaving the state because there are so few jobs worth staying for.”
Kathleen Coonrod, Local 203, also addressed the hearing.
The UE leaders were glad to have had the chance to share their views with legislators. Paradis said it was “a great experience — so much fun having the full attention of your elected officials!”
Said Sullivan, “Before speaking, I was a little bit nervous that I would sound nervous. I don't know how nervous I sounded, but I think I said enough. It was fun to participate, and I was proud to represent our union. I think that the economic situation in the nation is a deteriorating catastrophe, albeit one that is absolutely unnecessary. While I was at the hearing, I kept thinking that the unionization of more businesses in our state could do more than any single bill could.”
Increasing the minimum wage will put an additional $240 million in the pockets of Vermont workers, who will spend it in the Vermont economy, according to the Public Assets Institute. That means that along with boosting the wages of families, a $15 an hour minimum wage will also strengthen local economies and tackle the massive inequality that's holding back too many Vermonters.
Of the 80,000 Vermonters who are struggling to get by on less than $15 an hour:
- 88 percent are adults, 56 percent are women, 59 percent work full-time, and one in five are parents.
- Structural racism is evident in low-wage work. Almost 60 percent of African Americans in Vermont earn less than $15 an hour.
- Inadequate wages in Vermont are also impacting many young children. More than 43,000 Vermont children live in a household supported by someone earning less than $15 per hour, and nearly 30,000 children live in a household supported by someone earning less than $12 per hour.
The effort to raise the wage in Vermont is being led by Rights and Democracy.