Rutland Herald | July 29, 2015 | Column by Josh O'Gorman
The leader of the Vermont Workers’ Center is taking his fight for higher wages and affordable health care to the State House.
After 15 years as executive director, James Haslam is leaving the Vermont Workers’ Center to lead a new organization focused on political advocacy.
Haslam will be the executive director of Rights & Democracy, which will tackle many of the same issues as the Vermont Workers’ Center. But, rather than focus on organizing in the workplace, Rights & Democracy will advocate for the election of officials who share its values.
“Through community organizing, educating and mobilizing around the issues we will push for our rights and having a real democracy,” Haslam said. “There is powerful grassroots organizing happening in communities around Vermont and our intention is to have this new project be able to advance political change to achieve happy, healthy and just communities for all Vermonters.”
Haslam said Rights & Democracy will complement the groundwork that’s been laid by the Vermont Workers’ Center, from successfully advocating for an increase in the minimum wage to calls during the recent legislative session for affordable health care.
“There’s a big disconnect in Montpelier between the struggles of working people and the policies coming from lawmakers and the administration,” Haslam said. “We’ve been hearing from people who are saying ‘enough is enough and they are ready to run in the next election.”
“We are bringing Vermonters together to improve the policies that affect us and our communities,” said Michelle Salvador, chairwoman of Rights & Democracy. “We need the policies that affect our communities to be actually aligned with the values of our communities.”
Rights & Democracy will hold a rally to kick off the organization’s activities on Labor Day, Sept. 7, in Battery Park in Burlington.
For the time being, the Vermont Workers’ Center will be led by a trio of longtime community organizers: Kate Kanelstein, Megan Sheehan and Matt McGrath.
“I think this is a very exciting development for our movement for human rights in Vermont,” McGrath said. “James’ new project will go in a new strategic direction, and we are excited he is doing this when we have an abundance of leaders to take up the challenge.”
“There is great leadership at the Workers’ Center,” Haslam said. “The Workers’ Center has done a lot of impressive work that I’m proud of and I’m excited to see how it will grow and thrive in the years ahead.”