Blog - Rights and Democracy

Jacky Rieke - Let's Raise All Boats

It is a privilege doing business in Vermont, this state with a great big heart! We make and eat and grow and create so many beautiful things, a unique people in contemporary times! Sadly, as the operator of Nutty Steph’s for 14 years and a well-integrated member of many facets of the community, I observe the feeling of scarcity that plagues the commoners and small businesses of our state, (as with all states in this wealthiest of nations on Earth). In case you are wondering if you are alone in your poverty, you are not. It is not in your imagination but rather the fiscal reality of the political policies of our time.

The only solution to the epidemic paucity of our time is to raise all boats with the tide of higher individual incomes, as was envisioned by those who fought for and won the first minimum wage law in 1912. In the 106 years since that time, inflation has far outpaced minimum wage increases, and we are again living in the slave culture that threatened the earlier period of industrialization.

Today’s wealth inequality is worse than ever. We work and work and have no savings or wiggle room. Lacking disposable income eclipses individual wellness and simultaneously casts a shadow on the cultural drive for leisure, beauty, adornment, and other miracles that feed the human soul. This in turn creates anxious workers, who jump from job to job, never getting what they need in exchange for their earnest efforts to contribute to the world. This is why small business owners struggle most. Turnover is far more expensive than a few more dollars an hour, and I imagine my sentiment would be echoed by other small businesses that are thriving while  providing great pay and benefits to workers, such as Farmers to You, The Alchemist, and Red Hen Baking Company. To concerned business owners I advise: pay more, provide a semblance of financial integrity to your workers, and they will devote themselves, and your business will thrive.

I’m glad Vermont is working toward a $15 minimum wage and only lament that we are too short-sighted to be planning for the $20 that will be needed by all workers by 2025, the $20 that indeed is needed now. The higher, the better, for individuals and Vermont small businesses. The greatest part about spreading high wages across the whole society is everyone will have more money for chocolate. Love!

Jaquleyn Ziegler Fernandez Rieke - Owner of Nutty Steph's in Middlesex


Vermont's Minimum Wage is Failing Working Families

MONTPELIER – The key finding from a recent, weeklong challenge undertaken by nearly 20 legislators: Vermont’s minimum wage is not nearly enough for working families to meet basic expenses. In fact, most challenge participants went into debt quickly.

Nineteen legislators and another dozen community members from throughout the state took part in the Vermont Minimum Wage Challenge and nearly ALL of them failed. In other words, they were unable to live on a minimum wage budget of $10.50 an hour for one week.

These findings come as the House prepares to hold a public hearing this Thursday at 5:30 PM in Room 11 of the State House on S.40, a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“It’s imperative that we raise the standard of living for thousands of Vermonters and their families this session,” said Elise Greaves, Political Engagement Coordinator at Rights & Democracy, which is part of the Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will put tens of millions of dollars directly into the pockets of Vermonters who will, in turn, put that money into Vermont businesses. This is just common sense economics.”

In a review of responses to a post-challenge survey, here were some key findings:

  • Almost none of the participants were able to actually complete the challenge and live within their budget. In addition:
  • Food, rent, and transportation costs were top reasons why folks went over budget.
  • Others, though they came close, or met, their budget had to put off paying bills or borrowed money to help them make it through the week.
  • Many skipped meals, or put off car repairs and doctor visits to make it work for that one week, though they acknowledged that they had no plans of how they would pay those bills later if this were their annual income.
  • Several participants found out - surprisingly - that they didn’t qualify for key public benefits because they made too much money.

“One of the things I've heard from people who oppose S.40 is that they are concerned about benefits cliffs and possible unintentional outcomes of raising the minimum wage. However, I was surprised that this was essentially a non-issue for a three-person, two minimum wage-earning household as we only qualified for 10 percent of the child care subsidy, but not 3Squares, Medicaid, or most of the food in our local Food Shelf.  Our family budget was in crisis mode from day one of the week, and there weren't sufficient resources available to make 80 hours a week at $10.50/hour a basic budget, let alone a livable one. In this process, I heard a lot of service providers share that shame keeps families from accessing supports. Working families in our state should not have to feel ashamed that they are unable to make ends meet. As Vermonters, we should feel ashamed if we let this moment pass us by without taking action."  Kate Larose, director, Financial Futures, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, and who not only took part in the challenge, but posted daily videos about her experience.

For other participants, the struggle to meet their budget put them squarely in the shoes of nearly 70,000 Vermonters - many of them women and people of color - who struggle to put food on the table and gas in the tank of their car to get to work

PUBLIC HEARING: On Thursday April 5th, the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee will hold a statewide public hearing on raising the minimum wage, from 5:30–7:30PM in Room 11 at the Vermont State House

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What You Can Do - This Week! - to Help Thousands of Vermonters

We won't pass key legislation this session to improve the lives of tens of thousands of Vermonters and their families without your help — and we need you this week!

We need folks to turn out & speak up before legislators on two key priorities to help working Vermonters: Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and enacting a paid family and medical leave insurance benefit.

Here's what you can do:

FIRST: Show up & speak out in favor of a $15 an hour minimum wage on Thursday, April 5, from 5-7pm, in Room 11 of the State House, at a public hearing hosted by the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee.

RSVP Today! (Facebook)

RSVP Today! (Rights & Democracy's website)

This is your chance to make sure legislators hear the voices and stories of working people who know how critical it is that we win livable wages now!

Want to testify? Fill out this story form and we'll help you prepare.

Need a ride? We have vans and cars with space. Check out this link for details and sign up!

SECOND: Show up & speak out in favor of a paid family and medical leave insurance benefit on Tuesday, April 10, from 5-7pm, in Room 11 of the State House at a public hearing hosted by the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs.

RSVP Today! (Facebook)

Want to testify or have questions? Email ashley@mainstreetalliance.org

This legislative session is our opportunity to raise the minimum wage AND create a paid family and medical leave benefit, but only if legislators hear loud and clear from folks like you {{ recipient.first_name_or_friend }}.

If you can't make these meetings, no problem: Find your legislator(s), call them, and urge them to stand with tens of thousands of working Vermonters who deserve a long overdue raise and paid time off to care for a loved one or to welcome a new child into the family.

Vermont's economy should work for everyone, not just a few.

Check out what else is happening this week in key State House committees & who's testifying for and against the issues we're championing as part of our People's Platform!

As we work to win on these, and other, issues this month plan to be in Montpelier on May 1 for a public rally at the State House. Hold the date and help us turn out folks from your community!

 

May Day Rally at the State House

Tuesday, May 1, State House lawn, State Street, Montpelier. Join us and rally in support of human rights and to celebrate working class power and unity. This event is being sponsored by the Vermont Human Rights Council: Vermont Workers' Center, 350 Vermont, Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante, Vermont Center for Independent Living, UE Local 203, United Academics UVM, Green Mountain Self-Advocates, Vermont Interfaith Action, Justice For All, Peace & Justice Center, Rural Vermont, Rights & Democracy VT, Pride Center of Vermont, Green Mountain Labor Council. More details to follow!


What You Can Do - This Week! - to Raise Vermont's Minimum Wage

It's time to raise up your voice in support of raising Vermont's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

On April 5, from 5-7pm, in Room 11 of the State House, the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee is holding a public hearing on whether to #RaiseTheWage to $15 an hour in Vermont.

RSVP Today! (Facebook)

RSVP Today! (Rights & Democracy's website)

This is your chance to make sure these representatives are hearing the voices and stories of working people who know how critical it is that we win livable wages now! Testimony at a Senate hearing earlier this year ensured that the bill passed the State Senate with strong support.

Want to testify? Fill out this story form and we'll help you prepare.

More than 25,000 working Vermonters currently live on the minimum wage today, and more than 70,000 would benefit from a $15 an hour minimum wage.

This is not just a matter of economic injustice facing thousands in our state—poverty wages disproportionately harm women and people of color in Vermont. Almost half—45 percent—of women and almost 60 percent of African Americans in Vermont earn less than $15 an hour.

This legislative session is our opportunity to raise the minimum wage to a livable wage, but only if legislators hear loud and clear from #RaiseTheWage supporters like you.

To help boost turnout for the April 5th hearing, join Rights & Democracy in Central Vermont this Thursday night!

Central Vermont Raise the Wage Feast & Phonebank

Thursday, March 29, 5-8PM, ACLU-Vermont, 90 Main St., Suite 200, Montpelier: Join folks to eat and drink together — and reach out to fellow Vermonters about the Raise the Wage Campaign! From 5–6PM, join the Central Vermont Organizing Team Meeting for some food and discussion and then help phonebank across the state to leverage real grassroots power in support of a $15 minimum wage. To find us: Enter off 90 Main Street, as if going into TD Bank, and use the door to the right to use the stairs or elevator and we'll be on the second floor.


Take the Minimum Wage Challenge

MONTPELIER - “Raise the Wage” legislative champions today kicked off Vermont's first-ever “minimum wage challenge” to highlight the issue of poverty wages in our state by spending a week voluntarily setting aside their salaries and living on $10.50 an hour, Vermont’s current minimum wage.

From Tuesday March 20th - 26th, as legislators prepare to take up the minimum wage bill in the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee, 17 legislators will hold themselves to the weekly budget that tens of thousands of low wage workers in Vermont must manage year-round.

Taking the challenge include: House Majority Lead Jill Krowinski, Deputy Assistant Majority Leader Tristan Toleno, Representatives Helen Head, Mary Howard, Chip Troiano, Tom Stevens, Johanna Donovan, Jay Hooper, Diana Gonzalez, Selene Colburn, Barbara Rachelson, Susan Buckholz and Curt McCormack, Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint, and Senators Alison Clarkson and Debbie Ingram.

More than 25,000 working Vermonters eke out a living on the minimum wage today, and more than 70,000 would see much needed raises with a $15/hr minimum wage.

"Each and every day I meet people struggling to make ends meet and are working two, three, sometimes more jobs and they still can’t pay rent," said Rev. Kim Kie, of Vermont Interfaith Action, a member of the statewide Raise the Wage Coalition. "For me, making choices on a limited budget for a week reminds me that many of my neighbors do not have a choice to take part in a consciousness-raising exercise, because $10.50 an hour is their reality. Raising the minimum wage is a moral imperative. Throughout Scripture God commands us to treat workers with respect, dignity, and fairness."

Many lawmakers admitted that they would find it difficult, if impossible, to meet their budgets - and were already thinking of what they would have to give up for a week to simply meet the budget facing tens of thousands of Vermonters on a daily basis.

“Taking this challenge is a difficult thing to do – I know I won't be able to put enough gas in my car to visit my sick mother, or watch movies on cable or in the theater,” said Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, and vice chairman of House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. “I'll pay my bills, shop carefully for food, and worry if those winter potholes will blow out a tire on my car. But I also know I will struggle like this for only a week, and not continuously, as do families who find a way to subsist on these wages.”

Along with legislators, the public can join the challenge by signing up on Rights & Democracy’s website.

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How We're Going to Win Big for Thousands of Vermonters this Session

Momentum is building to raise Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and enact family and medical leave insurance this legislative session.

Your calls, emails, and voices are needed now, more than ever. Here are two quick updates on these important bills that will Raise Up the lives of thousands of Vermonters. Thank you to everyone who’s told their story to legislators, or called and emailed in support of these bills.

Here’s what coming next and how you can help us win big for Vermonters!

  • The Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs Committee will take up H. 196, the family and medical leave insurance bill, on Wednesday, which is an important first step toward getting this legislation through the Senate and onto the Governor’s desk. Email committee members, as well as your Senator(s), to support this bill.
  • Before the end of the month, the House General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee is expected to take up S. 40, which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. This bill has passed the Senate and now needs to be passed in the House to get to the governor’s desk. Email committee members, and your local Representative, to support this bill.

During the Town Meeting Day break, Rights & Democracy members and staff talked with hundreds of Vermonters throughout the state and urged them to contact lawmakers to do more to support our friends, families, and neighbors in the Green Mountain State.

Many of them filled out our Community Survey, if you haven’t done so please take 5 minutes to fill it out yourself!

Read more

Make Calls in Support of Universal Primary Care

While S. 53, the Universal Primary Care (UPC) bill, passed unanimously out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on March 2, this bill has a long way to go before becoming law as it now moves to two more committees – Senate Finance and Senate Appropriations. 

We’ve heard some officials say that they do not believe there is an access problem in Vermont. That’s why we need people to tell the Senators about their personal stories of how out-of-pocket costs have kept them from getting primary care.

Please let these Senators know before they return to work on Tuesday, March 13th that Vermonters need access to primary care with no out-of-pocket costs.

Senate Finance Members

Senate Appropriations Members

Telling your personal story, or the stories of people you know, will inform these Senators about why access to universal access to primary care is a critical need in Vermont.  Here are some other key points to relay:

  • UPC will ensure access to primary care for all Vermonters, including mental health and substance abuse services.
  • UPC ensures Vermonters can seek primary care when they need it most and not worry about out-of-pocket costs.
  • UPC will attract more primary care providers to Vermont by simplifying paperwork and payment processes.
  • UPC is a crucial first step to creating the true public universal health care system Vermonters want, and what is spelled out in Act 48.
  • UPC will save lives because people won’t delay care.
  • UPC will save money because people will be treated earlier before they end up in emergency room and/or their conditions are much worse.

If S. 53 passes these committees in timely fashion, and then passes the entire Senate, it will be sent over to the House before the end of the session!

So besides contacting the Senators listed above, also contact your own Senator(s), because it's important that every Senator understands why we need Universal Primary Care.

Thank you!

Ellen Oxfeld & Barb Wilson, members, Rights & Democracy Vermont


Kate Larose - Vermonters Deserve $15 an hour

headshot2.jpg“Those people don’t deserve more than $10 an hour.”

This is one of the statements I heard at a recent community forum hosted by Rep. Parent and the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association on S. 40.

S.40 would raise Vermont’s minimum wage incrementally from $10.50 to $15 an hour by the year 2024.  It’s no secret that the cost of living continues to increase each year: housing, child care, medical expenses…these cost more today in Vermont than they did yesterday. 

I’ve been fortunate to receive a cost of living adjustment almost every year when I worked with the state, and now in my non-profit job.  Our elected officials also receive raises to keep up with growing costs.  Why shouldn’t families working the hardest to make ends meet and put food on the table also see an increase?

At this forum much of the focus was on high school students, as if they are the face of minimum wage earners in Vermont.  But the reality is that 87% of minimum wage earners in Vermont are adults, and on average they provide 63% of their total family income.

And in fact, 56% of minimum wage earners in Vermont are women.  Though women represent less than half of the workforce, they outnumber men when it comes to low wage work. More than 1 in 4 women who work full-time in our state do not make enough to cover basic living expenses.  (This was highlighted at the forum when one brave woman stood up and said, “Those people? You’re talking about me!  I spent most of my life working two to three jobs to support my children as a single parent.)

In my work at Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity I see too many of my neighbors struggling to make ends meet even though they are doing everything they can: working multiple jobs, turning to the food shelf between pay checks, living frugally and trying to balance budgets that aren’t possible to balance.  Raising the minimum wage would raise pay by an average of $2,000 a year for more than three in ten working Vermonters. 

Will $15 an hour solve poverty in Vermont?  No.  But it is a needed step in the right direction to help families get by until we do.  They deserve that!  We deserve that. 


Rights & Democracy's Voter's Guide for Burlington Elections 2018

This is it, folks! Tomorrow is the day to turn out and show your support for our endorsed candidates for Mayor, City Council, and School Board, as well as several key ballot items.

We know you've heard from us a lot here at Rights & Democracy - texts, emails, and in meetings, so here's the quick recap:

Mayor: Independent Carina Driscoll for Mayor. The momentum of people supporting Carina’s campaign has been building for weeks as folks learn how she plans to include all of us in building Burlington's future.

Aside from Rights & Democracy (RAD), Carina has been endorsed by the Coalition for a Livable City, AFSCME Local 1343 Council 93 (nearly 300 city and school workers), Our Revolution, the National Nurses Union, and the Burlington Free Press. This diverse group of endorsements demonstrate Carina’s inclusive vision for the city and a recognition of her ability to bring people together.

Carina’s victory will be the start of rebuilding trust and opening up the doors of City Hall to everyone in our community. Carina has proven skills to lead the city and a record of listening to all of the people who live here, not just a self-selected group of self-identified "leaders." That combination will ensure that under her leadership that City Hall will work for the people, not private interests.

For same-day voter registration information, getting a ride to the polls, or to find your polling station: Visit Carina's website for details.

In addition to Carina, here are the other RAD-endorsed candidates that our members voted to endorse:

RAD_endorsed_logo.pngCity Council

Ward 2: Max Tracy, Progressive

Ward 3: Brian Pine, Progressive

Ward 5: Jesse Warren, Progressive

Ward 6: Charles Simpson, Progressive

Ward 7: Ali Dieng, Progressive-Democrat

Ward 8: Carter Neubieser, Progressive

School Board

Ward 4: Martine Gulick

Ward 5: Nicole Twohig

Ward 7: Monika Ivancic

In addition, several issues on our Burlington People’s Platform are on the ballot, too.

We are encouraging folks to support the following ballot items:

Question 1: Vote Yes on the School Budget. Any problems that we have with the way we fund education should be settled in the School Board elections, and in discussions with Montpelier - but not taken out on our kids. We also need to show support for our teachers and staff. Of the budget increase, only 1% is due to local spending, the other 7% is due to an increase in the statewide property tax (of which we have no control over at the local level).

Question 4: Vote Yes to say you want more climate action! Our friends at 350 Vermont have been working hard around the state to ensure that legislators and the governor know that we cannot slow down our progress to create a just transition to a future powered by renewable energy. Add your voice by voting Yes on #4.

Question 5: Show your support for Affordable Housing by urging the City Council to look to a suite of local option taxes to provide more progressive and equitable funding sources for the city’s housing trust fund and rely less on the regressive property tax. This important fund could be used more widely to build truly affordable, and perpetually affordable, housing. This ballot item was proposed by RAD members in Burlington, and we are thankful to Councilor Max Tracy for helping to lead the fight to get it on the ballot.

Question 6: Vote Yes on cancelling the F-35 from coming to Burlington’s International Airport. The impact on affordable housing and our children in our community and in the communities of our neighbors—especially Winooski and South Burlington—is too much to ignore.

So, join us in putting the people back in charge of City Hall and vote for Carina Driscoll and all of our RAD-endorsed candidates!

And, mark your calendars: Join us next Monday, March 12 for a Burlington Community Action Meeting & Potluck from 6-7:30 PM at our offices on 241 North Winooski Avenue. We'll have food, an election debrief, talk about our next steps on affecting change here in Burlington (and supporting our winning candidates), and get updates on our statewide campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage, and more.


Let's Win Big in Burlington on March 6th!

RAD_endorsed_logo.png

With less than a week to go - here are some ways in which you can help our endorsed candidates and ballot items be victorious on Tuesday, March 6th.

First of all - make sure that you turn out to the polls on March 6th! Or, request an absentee ballot and vote early to get it out of the way and help work the polls on Town Meeting Day to ensure a victory.

Here is our full list of candidates who our members voted to support:

Mayor: Independent Carina Driscoll for Mayor. The momentum of Carina’s campaign is really building - just in time for election day!

Aside from Rights & Democracy (RAD), Carina has been endorsed by the Coalition for a Livable City, AFSCME Local 1343 Council 93 (nearly 300 city and school workers), Our Revolution, the National Nurses Union, and the Burlington Free Press. This diverse group of endorsements demonstrate Carina’s inclusive vision for the city and a recognition of her ability to bring people together.

Sign up to participate in Carina’s Get Out the Vote effort through Tuesday! Come to a honk and wave, make calls, or volunteer to hold a sign at the polls on election day.

Carina’s victory will be the start of rebuilding trust and opening up the doors of City Hall to everyone in our community. Carina has proven skills to lead the city and a record of listening to the people who live here. That combination will ensure that under her leadership that City Hall will work for the people, not private interests.

In addition to Carina, here are the other RAD-endorsed candidates that our members voted to endorse for March 6th:

City Council

Ward 2: Max Tracy, Progressive

Ward 3: Brian Pine, Progressive

Ward 5: Jesse Warren, Progressive

Ward 6: Charles Simpson, Progressive

Ward 7: Ali Dieng, Progressive-Democrat

Ward 8: Carter Neubieser, Progressive

School Board

Ward 4: Martine Gulick

Ward 5: Nicole Twohig

Ward 7: Monika Ivancic

In addition, several issues on our Burlington People’s Platform are on the ballot, too.

We are encouraging folks to support the following ballot items:

Question 1: Vote Yes on the School Budget. Any problems that we have with the way we fund education should be settled in the School Board elections, and in discussions with Montpelier - but not taken out on our kids. We also need to show support for our teachers and staff. Of the budget increase, only 1% is due to local spending, the other 7% is due to an increase in the statewide property tax (of which we have no control over at the local level).

Question 5: Show your support for Affordable Housing by urging the City Council to look to a suite of local option taxes to provide more progressive and equitable funding sources for the city’s housing trust fund and rely less on the regressive property tax. This important fund could be used more widely to build truly affordable, and perpetually affordable, housing. This ballot item was proposed by RAD members in Burlington, and we are thankful to Councilor Max Tracy for helping to lead the fight to get it on the ballot.

Question 6: Vote Yes on cancelling the F-35 from coming to Burlington’s International Airport. The impact on affordable housing and our children in our community and in the communities of our neighbors—especially Winooski and South Burlington—is too much to ignore.  

To help these candidates win, reach out to the candidates and see what help they need with last-minute phone calls, door knocking, sign waving, and get out the vote parties! Encourage your friends to vote, too, in support of these grassroots candidates and to support these ballot items.

Let’s put the people back in charge of City Hall on March 6th!


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