VT Digger | July 29, 2015 | Column by Amy Ash Nixon

The longtime head of the Vermont Workers’ Center is leaving to start a nonprofit organization that will focus on legislative policy and elections.

James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, participates in a May Day rally at the Statehouse. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

James Haslam is launching Rights & Democracy, a 501(c)4 group that will focus on solving many of the issues the workers’ center supports, such as fair labor practices and addressing income inequality.

“The work of Rights & Democracy is going to largely be around a lot of single-issue campaigns like paid sick days and raising standards for working people, workers’ rights issues and the other kinds of issues that are encompassed in our platform,” Haslam said Wednesday.

He said a mix of grants will be sought, and also contributions from individuals, unions and other like-minded organizations.

Haslam said his transition to the separate nonprofit organization, a “sister or cousin organization” to the workers’ center, has been happening over the past month.

“I’m thrilled to build this new project at this incredibly pivotal moment in Vermont and our country,” Haslam said.

The new nonprofit will make its formal public launch at the Burlington Labor Day celebration Sept. 7.

At the launch the group will “lay out its strategy to ensure that the voices of everyday, working people are heard during the 2016 elections, and beyond,” a news release states.

Michelle Salvador, a first vice president of the Vermont State Employees Union, will serve as chair of the new group.

“We are bringing Vermonters together to improve the policies that affect us and our communities. We need the policies that affect our communities to be actually aligned with the values of our communities,” Salvador said.

During the recent legislative session, Salvador said, “Several of us worked together on workers’ issues, and issues that impact our communities. We came to the similar realization that it was time not only to change the debate under the dome, but to take a look at changing how politics happen in Vermont,” she said. “I think it just kind of evolved over time by how we were seeing things happen in the Statehouse.”

The agenda for the group’s campaign, Together We Win, was announced in the news release:

“We support a Vermont where:
• Every working person earns a livable wage and has dignified working conditions.
• Everyone has access to quality healthcare, education, affordable housing, and social supports, paid for with a progressive and fair tax system.
• We have an economy that creates good jobs while taking bold action to protect the environment and address climate change.”

Haslam’s 15-year career with the VWC will be celebrated with an event in his honor at 6 p.m. Aug. 29 at North Beach Pavilion in Burlington.


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