Blog - Rights and Democracy

It's Time to Veto Phil Scott

Today, Vermont Governor Phil Scott vetoed bills to raise the minimum wage (S.40) and establish paid family leave (H.196). While not surprising, his actions will have a profound impact on tens of thousands of working Vermonters and their families.  
"With these vetoes, Gov. Phil Scott made it clear he does not represent the interests of working families in Vermont, and is more interested in maintaining an economy that benefits the wealthy few while increasingly leaving tens of thousands of us behind," said James Haslam, Executive Director for Rights & Democracy, a community-based membership group that strongly supported both bills. 
"It would be generous to say that Governor Scott is simply out of touch with the everyday struggles of families in today's economy. The fact is, he is simply more interested in representing powerful corporate lobbying interests than he is the working folks he claims to care about. If we are going to have a state where everyone can thrive, Vermont will need to veto Phil Scott and elect someone who has not been bought and sold by Wall Street and the likes of Koch Brothers. Vermont can no longer afford Gov. Phil Scott."

Urgent: Calls Needed Today in Support of Raising the Minimum Wage

We are close to winning a huge victory for working Vermonters by raising the state’s minimum wage—providing a nearly $250 million boost to the state’s economy, and lifting thousands of the state’s lowest-wage workers out of poverty.

On Friday, the House Appropriations committee voted to send the bill to a full floor vote this week: that House floor debate and vote on this important bill is expected to happen on Tuesday!

Join us tonight at our Burlington offices - or from your home - for a statewide phonebank to get this bill passed in the House this week. RSVP on Facebook, or if you can't make it to our offices email Elise Greaves for other ways you can help make calls.

The Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition, which includes Rights & Democracy, has led the effort to pass this bill, as well as Paid Family Leave, during this biennium. Friday's vote to move the bill to a full floor debate was a huge step forward. In addition, key Senate committees have agreed to move the paid family leave bill to a floor debate in that chamber.

"By raising the minimum wage and establishing paid family leave, Vermont legislators and Governor Phil Scott have an opportunity to raise the quality of life in our communities," said Andrew Tripp, a Rights & Democracy board member. "Right now, too many families are working 40 hours a week, or more, and still unable to afford basic necessities or to stay home with their loved ones when they need them most. There is a lot of talk about how to make Vermont communities healthier and more affordable. These two bills offer a chance to reward the hard work of tens of thousands of Vermonters."

Your Representatives needs to hear from you before Tuesday about why they need to support raising the minimum wage.

If you have a personal story about the impact low-wage work has had on you, that’s the most powerful story to tell. For some additional key myth-busting talking points, see below.

Recently House Speaker Mitzi Johnson told VT Digger that raising Vermont’s minimum wage was critical to making Vermont affordable for low-income residents. She added:

“If we want a state that supports families, that supports a strong healthy future, that’s attractive to young people, then we need policies that are accommodating to young families and that are accommodating to entry-level workers. I think even if it’s vetoed, even if we can’t override, I think a very big segment of Vermont wants to see people speaking up for them.”

This is great news to hear from the Speaker, but we want to hear this message coming from your Representative too. If they support the legislation - thank them!

Here’s two ways to make sure this bill becomes law this year.

  • Call and email your Representative today: You can look up their contact information here. You can also leave a message for them at the Sgt. at Arms office. That number is (802) 828-2228.
  • Call Gov. Phil Scott at (802) 828-3333 and tell him to stand with working Vermonters and raise the wage!

At a time when billions in federal tax breaks are being given the wealthy, raising the standard of living for thousands of Vermonters—many of them women and people of color—is only fair and just.

But it will only happen if legislators and Gov. Scott hear loud and clear from folks like you.

Here are some key talking points to combat some common myths, if you need them, when you’re talking to or emailing your legislator.

Check out this story from New Hampshire, which explains how workers are seeking jobs in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts because the minimum wage is higher in those states. As a result, New Hampshire businesses are raising their wages to compete. In other words, raising the minimum wage attracts workers.

Opponents like to say jobs could be lost, but this ignores a simple truth: People who make more money don’t need as many jobs to support themselves or their families. So, if someone works two jobs now, they may only need to work 1.5 jobs in the future. But, they have more money in their pocket. A win-win!

The wage increases will happen slowly over a six-year period. Businesses, and nonprofits, will have time to adjust. And, it’s not like the cost of living is going to stop going up in those six years. Some large nonprofits—such as the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity—already pay their employees more than $15 an hour because as an anti-poverty organization, they don’t want to be paying staff poverty wages.

The benefits cliff concerns are real, but they’re real for folks today. Someone making $10.50 an hour can lose public benefits for food, housing, and child care. Raising the minimum wage will not exacerbate the problem, but provide people a path off of receiving benefits—which is what many low-wage workers said during two separate public hearings this session.

Our Success Depends on You

Thank you for your past support — it is because of you that we were able to accomplish so much last year.

And it is because of you that we have been able to unite folks during the legislative session around issues that improve the lives of our neighbors and our communities.

These wins are important because, if the past sixteen months have taught us anything, it’s that Democracy is fragile, and Rights can’t be taken for granted.

The priorities of far too many elected officials – and the policies they attempt to enact – favor the wealthy few over the benefit of communities they have been entrusted to serve.

We need your voice to let our elected officials know we expect them to deliver on behalf of the people of Vermont.

And, we need your financial support.

Building on the success of the past two years, Rights & Democracy has fortified its coalitions in order to fight for economic, environmental, health care and racial justice in the Vermont State Legislature.

  • We have mobilized thousands of Vermonters in the the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which recently passed the Vermont Senate and is currently being debated in the House.  
  • We have played a key role in the coalition advocating paid family and medical leave insurance, which has passed the House and is now in the Senate.   
  • We are actively engaged in the battles for Medicare for All, clean water , energy democracy, and working to end systemic racism in our schools, our government, and our judiciary. 
  • We are fostering the next generation of community and elected leaders, through recruitment, education and training through our LEAD-VT program, and providing direct electoral support and endorsements.

Throughout rural and urban communities in our state, we see working and middle class neighbors fighting to survive in today’s economy. That’s why this spring we are launching a series of community forums, going into our rural communities, meeting people with diverse backgrounds and political viewpoints in order to better understand their priorities for the future, and develop a platform we can use to hold elected officials accountable to our community’s true needs.

Your financial support makes our work possible.

You can help with a one-time, annual donation of $25, $50. $100, or more.

Or, join our growing list of monthly, sustaining donors who give $5, $10, $20 (and more) each month to help make our shared work possible.

We need your help in so many other ways, too. Get involved – forward our emails and Facebook pages to your friends, attend a meeting or a rally, join a working group, attend a legislative committee hearing or testify. We want our elected officials to hear your concerns.

One way to get involved is our upcoming MAY DAY RALLY!  The all-day event will feature citizen lobby training, a petition delivery to Gov. Phil Scott, and a press conference at the Vermont State House on Tuesday, May 1st, culminating with a 4:30 PM Rally on the State House lawn, State Street, Montpelier.

RSVP: Join us to rally in support of human rights & celebrate working class power & unity.

Without the support of our members, our shared goals will be difficult to realize. So, it’s imperative that you unite to promote grassroots progressive policies our country so desperately needs.

By becoming a sustaining member of Rights & Democracy, you are helping to build that movement — online, in local communities in Vermont and New Hampshire, and beyond. We need your help now to make it a reality.

Thank you for your contribution and continued support,

Chuck Pizer, Community Engagement Director, Rights & Democracy

Raise the Wage Update: One House Committee Down, More to Go!

Yesterday, the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee voted 7-4 to support raising Vermont's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Thank you for all of your calls, emails, and powerful personal testimony!

While this is great news, your help is needed now—more than ever—as the bill is now being sent to House Appropriations where it's fate is not clear! We need your help letting committee members know that they need to pass the bill ASAP!

Here's the list of names, emails and phone numbers. Remember: Every call and email counts!

House Appropriations Committee

After you call and email these Representatives, call Gov. Phil Scott at (802) 828-3333 and urge him to stand with thousands of working Vermonters who have waited to long for a wage that enables them to support healthier families, create a stronger economy, and build more resilient communities.

The time is now to raise the quality of life of our friends and neighbors by raising Vermont's minimum wage. But it will only happen if legislators hear loud and clear from folks like you.

RSVP Today: May Day Rally at the State House

Tuesday, May 1, State House lawn, State Street, Montpelier. Join us and rally in support of worker rights & human rights and to celebrate working class power and unity. There will be workshops on citizen lobbying, time to meet with lawmakers, a petition delivery to Gov. Phil Scott, and a rally on the State House lawn. Register today!

Welcome New (and Familiar) Faces to Rights & Democracy Staff!

We had a great conversation on our membership call Sunday night, where we discussed upcoming actions you can take to help us pass a strong minimum wage bill and paid family and medical leave insurance.

We also let folks know about our upcoming membership appeal, and why it’s important to become a member and support Rights & Democracy’s (RAD) important, intersectional organizing work.

RAD is the region’s major membership based organization, uniting people and organizations to ensure that our elected official deliver on behalf of the people of Vermont. We’re fighting for justice—economic, racial, gender, environmental, housing and health care— while also taking on corporate power and big money. We are fighting to improve the lives of our neighbors and our communities.  

As a member, you help build a sustainable movement. Learn more about becoming a monthly donor or making an annual contribution.

But, we also announced some important staff updates.

Elise Greaves rejoined RAD as our Political Engagement Coordinator. Elise has been working at RAD since 2015 and was previously our Lead Organizer. She has taken on much of the work handled by Isaac Grimm, who has moved next door to New Hampshire and is now RAD’s New Hampshire Organizing Director. Stepping into the role of Lead Organizer in Vermont is Emma Schoenberg, who joined RAD last year as a Grassroots Organizer.

Here’s the list of new staff who’ve joined our team in the past few months. You can read their full bios and see their staff photos:

  • KATE LOGAN, Director of Programming and Policy (bi-state). Kate is a feminist social and political theory scholar, specializing in family policy, participatory democracy, and human rights, as well as a having a background in labor and community organizing and nonprofit management. Working for Rights & Democracy gives her the opportunity to put all of these passions and skills to use in helping to build a more just and sustainable future. You can reach her at
  • JAIME CONTOIS, Director of Strategic Development (bi-state). Jaime worked as a community organizer in NH and VT for over ten years, leading campaigns for living wages, health care reform, affordable housing, labor and LGBTQ rights, and addressing systemic racism. She has worked in NH as Director for Working Families Win,, and led a campaign that defeated the radical right in the State House. You can reach her at
  • JOHANNA DE GRAFFENREID, Program Director, Jobs, Justice Climate Campaign. Johanna found her roots in the environmental justice movement while working for Greenpeace USA in 2009. For more than a decade she has worked as a grassroots trainer, street medic, campaign director, and policy expert with grassroots, regional, & national organizations. You can reach her at
  • CHUCK PIZER, Director of Community Engagement (bi-state). Chuck Pizer is RAD's Director of Community Engagement. Prior to RAD, he worked as the Community Engagement Director for Vermont PBS for six years. During that time he rapidly expanded its partners – and presence – throughout all fourteen counties of the state. You can reach him at

Thanks for your ongoing support of Rights & Democracy as we all know that there is a lot to do in order to win on some of today’s most pressing issues facing our communities.

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

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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