Returning VSEA Endorsement and Black Lives Matter Statement
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Progressive/Democratic candidate, Chittenden 6-2 (Burlington), 802-448-0838 Taylor Small, Progressive/Democratic candidate, Chittenden 6-7 (Burlington/Winooski), 802-391-0569 Rep. Mari Cordes, Democratic/Progressive, Addison-4 (Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, Starksboro), 802-989-9267
Rep. Selene Colburn, Progressive/Democrat, Chittenden 6-4 (Burlington), 802-233-1358 After much consideration, we are declining the VSEA legislative candidate endorsements for the 2020 general election due to harmful inconsistencies in the organization’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We are deeply concerned about VSEA’s opposition to critical criminal justice reform legislation and its failure to offer strong leadership in challenging status quo culture within state government as it relates to racial justice. We are living through too important a racial awakening for organizations not to be called on to reflect on their internal actions and external positions. VSEA represents state employees in virtually every division of state government, but as it relates to this topic, specifically corrections officers, state police managers (lieutenants), and individuals working in juvenile justice settings. As evidence of bias and harassment comes forward in these settings, and across state government, the union must be a pro-active partner in addressing these harms. The work ahead to uproot racism in our state is non partisan and every organization and individual has a role to play.
VSEA issued a public statement on June 2, 2020 in solidarity with George Floyd, demanding an end to unnecessary police violence and stating support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Then on June 18, Drew Bloom, a police trainer and VSEA member, testified against the elimination of choke-holds in police use-of-force legislation under consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee. VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard was present in the online committee hearing. VSEA did not testify, nor offer a position on the legislation to clarify its position. At a late July meeting of the legislature’s Working Vermonters Caucus, VSEA Board members and other rank and file members expressed the need to address racism within the state criminal justice system. Subsequently, one female member experienced harassment on social media using “all lives matter” language while VSEA leadership failed to engage its membership in line with its earlier June Black Lives Matter statement.
To be clear: all public employees perform essential work for the community and this work needs to be acknowledged. However, there can be no dispute that the "blue/all lives matter" slogan is intended only to diminish the existence of racism and the deaths of people of color at the hands of some police. Moreover, when organizational leadership fails to address attempts to minimize the existence of racism, it contributes to the culture of harm against BIPOC people.
Declining the VSEA endorsement does not diminish our deep and continued support of workers, unions and, specifically, state employees. The majority of us have been or are union members, organizers, and leaders in Vermont. We have been advocates for working people on the front lines on issues of minimum wage, workers’ rights and protections, and equity in workplaces. We support fully funding the Pay Act, protecting state jobs from privatization, and fully funding public employee pensions. We also are committed, as white people, to engaging other white people on the urgent work of uprooting racism in our institutions and daily interactions. Building true solidarity includes having critical conversations and engaging each other in learning how racism pervades our communities, organizations, and institutions. Anything short of this upholds the status quo which harms Black, Brown, and Indigenous people and other people of color.
We call on VSEA to engage its members in discussions of critical race theory, examine how state government perpetuates racism, and work towards a more equitable Vermont. This includes examining policy positions related to racial justice and criminal justice reform legislation. The work of the labor movement is to build solidarity based on our collective humanity where every workers’ dignity and economic survival matters. We cannot get there without first truly understanding and unequivocally supporting Black lives and the lives of all people of color.
VSEA Week in Action Newsletter. (2020, September 21). VSEA website. https://www.vsea.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/VSEA-Week-In-Action-Newsletter-June-05-2020.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2Tc8FAlWVOF6Ij4WnVn4KwFsTHNvkE0ogdzDKQbA25smxojl_J17Q35t8. Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on S. 219 - An act relating to addressing racial bias and excessive use of force by law enforcement. (2020, September 22). YouTube. https://youtu.be/i--ZRtTN0WE?t=6300