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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Vermont State Labor Council United: bloodied, but unbowed


Welcome to Team Tuesday!


Back in March, I brought you the story about the great organizers who created an insurgent group called United, got elected to lead the Vermont State Labor Council, and made it live up to its name.  The national AFL-CIO wasn’t amused then about some of their power-building tactics, like bringing rank-and-file workers to council meetings and endorsing local independent candidates.  Turns out the national has tried to squash them like a bug.  But no dice!


To remind you about what this type of group is: These councils, which also exist on the city level and are also known as Central Labor Councils (CLCs), serve as venues for different unions to act in concert.  The council might throw its weight behind a candidate or legislative priority, a strike, or a community campaign.  They can have real power in various situations.


Labor Notes has the story from the workers themselves of the most recent battle for control in Vermont.  As they say, “First elected in 2019 and re-elected with new leadership in 2023, United has shifted the VSLC’s focus from top-down to bottom-up organizing. Instead of paying lobbyists to interface with our legislators, we let the workers speak for themselves.”  They have achieved great things for Vermont workers.


The national AFL-CIO wanted them out


In response, “the national AFL-CIO has nullified the results of the labor council’s 2023 convention [where the United slate was re-elected], and ordered a completely new election with different rules…


“The 2023 VSLC election for president and vice president, in which delegates re-elected the United slate with 53 percent of the vote, was appealed by the losing presidential candidate. The VSLC, after conducting an impartial investigation and hearing, found the issues cited in the protest did not affect the outcome of the election.


“The VSLC’s finding was appealed to the national AFL-CIO, which decided to toss out the results, despite failing to produce evidence of anything that affected the outcome. On May 7, President Liz Shuler ordered a re-run election which would use adjusted delegate and voting strengths, be conducted online during work days, and be in apparent conflict with the elections provisions of our VSLC constitution…


“It was with pride that we filed our appeal [of the national decision] with a large number of rank-and-file sign-ons and pledges to stand with us in solidarity.  After we filed our appeal and garnered local and national support, on June 13 the national AFL-CIO responded by staying the re-run election, giving us the chance to present our case to an Appeals Committee.”


Hang Together, or Hang Separately


One wonders if the AFL was spooked by a panel at the recent Labor Notes Conference, where VSLC’s United participated with other reform labor councils on the “Reviving Your Labor Council” panel, which spotlighted efforts to bring a bottom-up organizing energy and strategy to AFL-CIO central labor councils and state federations.


United warns that “what is happening in Vermont could create the playbook for a broader purge of reformers in other labor councils by top-down unions trying to turn back the clock.”  To nip that in the bud, “let’s stand together and make those possibilities real.” 


Good luck to United on your appeal, and I hope a thousand labor council reformers bloom. 


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