Burlington Free Press | July 27, 2015 | Column by Zach Despart
James Haslam, the longtime executive director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, has stepped down from the organization.
“I’ve been at the Workers’ Center for 15 years, and it’s been some of the most exciting, rewarding work I could ever have hoped for,” Haslam told the Burlington Free Press. “Now I’m excited for a new challenge that complements the work many of us have done for a long time.”
Haslam, 41, added he was proud to have overseen growth of the Workers’ Center, which now boasts several hundred members.
“Our work is seen as some of the most innovative for building power of working people in the country, and I’m tremendously proud of what we have accomplished,” Haslam wrote in a post on the center’s website.
The group, founded in 1998, advocates for fair labor conditions and benefits for workers across Vermont.
Haslam said he will become the director of Rights and Democracy, a new grassroots political organization decided to lobbying the Legislature and supporting progressive political candidates.
Haslam said he was disappointed to see many of the state’s elected Democratic leaders, including Gov. Peter Shumlin, support Hillary Clinton for president rather than Vermont’s own Bernie Sanders.
“Vermont can’t be and shouldn’t be a state that just exports progressive ideas,” he said. “We have to actually move forward with those kinds of policies in our own state.”
Rights and Democracy plans to hold a kickoff celebration on Labor Day, Sept. 7, in Burlington’s Battery Park. Haslam said the group likely will collaborate with the Workers’ Center and other progressive organizations.
In Haslam’s absence, Veteran Workers’ Center organizers Kate Kanelstein, Megan Sheehan and Matt McGrath will serve as interim co-executive directors.
“The Workers Center is in a position to keep thriving for years to come,” Haslam said.
Kanelstein echoed Haslam’s vision of collaboration between the Workers’ Center and Rights and Democracy.
“We’re anticipating that the work will be complementary,” Kanelstein said. “There will probably be areas that cross and overlap in the future, and areas where we bounce off each other.”
Contact Zach Despart at 651-4826 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZachDespart.