From "Vermont union members celebrate May Day" by Rachel Mann, WCAX, May 2, 2023
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s May Day, a worldwide celebration of workers’ rights. Dozens gathered in Burlington’s Battery Park to highlight the future of labor laws in Vermont and pay homage to the people who fought for those that exist today.
Vermont is the 14th most union-dense state in the country, though many union organizers say we can do better. May Day is the result of the early labor movement, where many workers were retaliated against or even killed for advocating for labor rights.
“It commemorates the struggle of workers over the centuries to be human,” said Liz Medina, the executive director of Vermont’s State Labor Council.
The U.S. Labor Movement took off in the 1880s as union workers in Chicago rallied for an eight-hour day. The peaceful demonstrations came to an end in Haymarket Square as a bomb was thrown into the crowd, killing 11 people.
“This is really a day of celebrating the achievements workers have achieved over the years such as an eight-hour work day, safety, better wages, health care... but also looking forward,” Medina said.
She continued on to say more unions and the “Pro Act” would improve working conditions in Vermont. One of its sponsors is Progressive Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak.
“The Pro Act stands for protecting the right to organize,” Mulvany-Stanak said.
The Pro Act is currently being worked on in a House committee. The bill has three primary functions which are to make becoming a union a one-step process, banning mandatory staff meetings meant to discourage unions and allowing farmworkers to unionize.
“They can’t organize under federal law,” Mulvaney-Stanak explained. “They’re in a no man’s land of labor rights. This would be a significant workers’ rights issue for domestic workers and agriculture workers, who are mostly folks of color and women.”
Organizations that are already unionized, such as the Howard Center and Starbucks, say unionizing allows them to advocate in the workplace, making it a win for everyone. Though, many employers are against unions for fear of profit loss or lawsuits.
Mulvaney-Stanak says it’s unlikely the Pro Act will get through this session, but she hopes it will be a top priority in January.