On International Workers’ Day, May 1st, around 800 members and allies of the Vermont Worker’s Center marched through the streets of Montpelier and rallied in front of the Statehouse. The Vermont Workers’ Center has organized May Day events since 2009, when the rally first showed the growing power of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign. This year, Vermont residents were joined by leaders from Maine, Maryland and Pennsylvania, who have taken the torch from Vermont and started their own campaigns for universal, publicly financed health care. NESRI also participated in the march, which ended with the proclamation of a unity petition demanding the full implementation of Vermont’s universal health care law.
The day before the rally, the Vermont House had passed a general healthcare bill, adding more definition, details, and deadlines to the transition process to Green Mountain Care, the universal health care system. After many weeks of bruising media and political debates questioning the feasibility of universal health care, the passage of a forward looking bill – which still needs to be approved by the Senate – was in itself a step in the right direction. The Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign had previously issued a public statement calling on lawmakers to stay the course and recommit to the human rights principles in the universal health care law. Throughout March and April, the campaign submitted several rounds of testimony on the current bill, and thus was able to reverse harmful provisions and add language on equitable taxation and financing based on health needs. As it stands now, the bill also explicitly declares health care a right for all residents, a first in Vermont law. Yet it includes no concrete measures for making Green Mountain Care a reality: this will be left to the 2015 legislative session.
May Day media coverage
Vermont Digger, May 2, 2014
Several hundred Vermonters descended on the Statehouse steps on Thursday for the Vermont Workers’ Center’s annual May Day event.
The center, and a coalition of unions and advocacy groups for poor and disabled Vermonters, had a lot to celebrate.
Migrant Justice, a group that advocates for migrant dairy workers from Mexico and central America, marked the passage of a new law that requires all law enforcement agencies in Vermont to adopt bias-free policing policies.
Several unions scored major victories in the last several days, thanks to grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts in the Statehouse. […]
The Workers’ Center and a coalition of other organizations also used the May Day rally to launch a petition drive to reaffirm support for the principles laid out in Act 48, the law that creates a framework for a government-funded, universal health care system.
The group plans to gather tens of thousands of signatures in the next year, which they will present to the governor and lawmakers to demonstrate public support for universal publicly financed health care.
Ellen Schwartz, 65, of Brattleboro has been involved with the Workers’ Center and the Health Care as a Human Right campaign for almost a decade.
“We have to think about the delivery of health care in a different way; not as a commodity, not as something that has to do with getting insurance or the profits of an insurance company,” Schwartz said. “We need to think of it in the same way we think of things like fire services, public education or road maintenance.”
“We need to remind lawmakers that this is something that’s really important to people in Vermont, and carving people out, backtracking or removing services is not what people wanted when Act 48 was passed,” she said.
Controversy over the Shumlin administration’s financing plans for universal health care have galvanized activists who “want Plan A, not Plan B,” Haslam said.
The activists will recommit themselves to the cause of universal health care this year and make the issue the focus of their organizing, he said.
Haslam said he expects a well-funded opposition to single payer to fill the airwaves. The center, he said, will focus on mobilizing small groups people around the state. “This is about people talking to each other and making sure democracy is not derailed,” he said.
Other state groups are starting to emulate the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Health Care is a Human Right campaign. Representatives from similar groups in Maine, Baltimore and Philadelphia came to the May Day rally. Nijimie DZurinko came to Montpelier from Philadelphia where she is part of Put People First Pennsylvania, a grassroots organization that has 250 members. DZurinko’s group has rallied around universal health care because “it’s an issue everyone cares about, it unites people across party lines” and because “Vermont showed it could win.”
Sergio Espana, of Baltimore, belongs to Health Care is a Human Right Maryland. The group, launched a year ago, has about 200 “core members” in chapters in eight counties. Thousands, he said, participate in events.
Espana said his group is reaching out to people who have fallen through the cracks of the Affordable Care Act and who have been burdened by health care debt. Health Care is a Human Right Maryland has brought together people around the issue because he said “there is a real need.”
“We have failed to treat health care as a public good,” Espana said.
Rally for workers’ rights at Vt. Statehouse (click to watch the video)
WCAX, May 1, 2014
A big labor rally at the Vermont Statehouse Thursday marked May Day.
Hundreds of people from Vermont labor unions, environmental groups and activist organizations marched through Montpelier and demonstrated on the Statehouse lawn.
They were honoring International Workers’ Day and pushing a worker-friendly political agenda, including universal health care, a livable wage and paid sick time.
Groups at the rally are also pushing for more rights for immigrants and legislation requiring bias-free policing.