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Livable Wage Victories

VLWC Accomplishments to Date:
The Vermont Livable Wage Campaign has achieved a great deal. Eleven years ago when we began our work, the term 'livable wage' was basically unknown in Vermont. Today it is well known and there is much public support for livable wages. In different communities, projects have ranged from urging schools to pay livable wages to all school workers, solidarity support for union members fighting for livable wages, and using livable wage figures as income qualifying guidelines with non-profit services. Dozens of private and public Vermont employers have increased workers wages, several committing to the Joint Fiscal Office livable wage numbers.

The VLWC has educated thousands of workers, community members, service providers, nonprofit workers, and students using our popular education curriculum since 1996. The Vermont minimum wage has increased four times in the last five years thanks to the VLWC's legislative work, leading to raises for tens of thousands of Vermonters. To date, the VLWC network of individual activists and organizations (unions, non-profits, faith communities, etc) in coalition with VLWC includes over 20,000 Vermonters.

General Media Coverage
Over the last eleven years, we have received unprecedented media coverage on the issue of livable wages including 9 Vermont Public Radio "Vermont Edition/Switchboard" programs, over 60 editorials and major news articles in local and statewide papers, as well as other radio and TV interviews. VLWC hosted the radio show "Equal Time Radio" on WDEV in Waterbury, FM 96.1 AM 550 for several months in 2008.  VLWC victories in 2007 and 2008 that won livable wages for Burlington school workers got local press coverage. Burlington school food service and custodial workers of AFSCME Local 1343 won an agreement that will bring all of its members up to a livable wage by the end of the contract and Burlington Para-Educators unit of the Burlington Education Association (BEA) and the Burlington School District gained a contract that will guarantee them livable wages over the next four years. VLWC's work and history was included as a case study in the academic book Partnering for Change: Unions and Community Groups Build Coalitions for Economic Justice, Ed. David B. Reynolds, published in early 2004.

2008

January 1 the tipped minimum wage increased by the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) thanks to the bill passed in 2007 that the VLWC helped push through the Vermont statehouse. Tipped workers will now see an increase in the minimum amount their employers are required to pay, giving some employees a boost in pay.

 

The VLWC helped to hold a hearing on bill H.337 on March 13, 2008 in front of a joint hearing with the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee and House Commerce Committee.  The VLWC brought 10 workers to testify on H.337, which is a bill that would guarantee 7 paid sick days annually to any worker who works more then 30 hours per week, and be pro-rated for part-time workers. The 10 workers testified about their experience without paid sick days or working with children whose parents lack this benefit.

 

The Burlington school food service and custodial workers of AFSCME Local 1343 won an agreement in May that will bring all of its members up to a livable wage by the end of the contract. It took three years of educating school board and community members, as well as organizing faith leaders, elected officials, other union members and hundreds of Burlington residents to show their support.  The campaign has been a struggle, but It is hoped that this contract will change the economic reality for many hard working Vermonters.

 

The VLWC launched its Paid Sick Days campaign to get guaranteed paid sick days for all working Vermonters.  We are working with a broad coalition including a partnership with the Vermont Workers Center Healthcare is a Human Right campaign, to build grassroots support for legislation that will ensure all Vermonters have access to paid sick leave.

 

2007

January 1st the minimum wage increased by the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA), based on the Consumer Price Index-Urban, according to the 2005 bill that stipulated the minimum wage would increase based upon cost of living estimates.  Workers being paid the minimum wage will now receive an increase in pay.

 

In May 2007 the Vermont legislature passed S. 27, a bill to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers in Vermont. The tipped minimum wage had been $3.65/hour. S. 27, increases the tipped minimum wage annually based on the CPI-U (Consumer Price Index – Urban or “cost-of-living”) starting on Jan 1, 2008. This COLA (cost of living adjustment) is the same index that is currently attached to the general minimum wage. A worker is considered a “tipped worker” and can be paid the $3.65/hour if he/she earns $30 or more a month in tips on a regular basis and occupations range from waitstaff to housekeepers in hotels/motels to bell-hops to pizza delivery people.


S. 27 also includes a revision to the tipped worker definition. Currently workers who make $30 or more in tips a month can be paid as a tipped worker. S. 27 revises this definition to $120 or more in tips a month.  The current definition had not been adjusted since 1957. Redefining the tip threshold excludes low-tipped and some part-time tipped workers who earn small tips due to low priced menus from being paid the tipped minimum wage. Instead, these workers will now be entitled to the general minimum wage ($7.53/hr in 2007). Tipped workers are legally guaranteed the general minimum wage ($7.53) via the “tipped credit.” Currently, Vermont law requires an employer to fill in the gap when an employee makes less than the general minimum wage when tips and $3.65 per hour work do not equal $7.53/hour. As tipped workers testified in front of the House General Committee in February, many employees do not know the “tipped credit” provision is Vermont law.

 

As part of the push to increase the tipped-minimum wage, the VLWC created a video called "Survival Tips" about the rights of tipped workers. This film is a valuable educational tool in the campaign to get a higher minimum wage passed for tipped workers and the eventual elimination of the tipped minimum wage.

 

In June 2007 the VLWC helped to publish the Report on Livable Wages in Burlington Schools: How to Address Poverty in Our Community and Reverse Gender Wage Inequity.  The report looked at the issues of livable wages in the schools and the benefits to the entire community of livable wages for support staff workers.

 

On October 30th the Burlington School Board ratified a contract between the Burlington Para-Educators unit of the Burlington Education Association (BEA) and the Burlington School District  that will guarantee the para-educators livable wages over the next four years.  The contract states that starting hourly pay is being raised from $9.43 to $10.20, plus benefits. This starting wage will increase to a livable wage of $14.15 over four years. Over the past three years para-educators and community partners, including members of the Burlington Livable City Coalition, educated the community, organized petitions and speakouts and worked to ensure school board members were always keenly aware of the livable wage issue.

 

2006

In February Phase 9 of the Vermont Job Gap Study- Economic Development in Vermont: Funding, Priorities and Performance was was released. Phase 9 breaks new ground in our work to raise awareness on the State's priorities for allocating our tax dollars and how this impacts working Vermonters. The State spent almost $42 million in FY05 for core economic development programs. Phase 9 provides recommendations for evaluating and adjusting current allocations of taxpayer resources to support working people, i.e. livable jobs in Vermont.

 

In March the Addendum to Phase 9 was published which examines the assertion that Vermont has an unfriendly business climate and this impedes business and job growth. New findings include: the number of businesses moving out of state vs. moving in is nearly identical; nearly as many companies move into Vermont from low tax states as move to low tax states; and employment change is driven primarily by business contraction/expansion and start-ups/closures.

 

The VLWC celebrated its tenth anniversary in September.  The campaign has been organizing and fighting for economic justice for 10 years and has made strides particularly in increasing the minimum wage in Vermont and publishing The Vermont Job Gap Studies.  The VLWC is the only statewide campaign for livable wages in the country.  We look forward to many more years of being advocates for livable wages and campaigning for economic and social justice.

 

2005

In 2005 the VLWC won several legislative victories that increased the Vermont livable wage and ensured more rights for workers. The Vermont Legislature passed H. 72, Unlawful Employment Practices Bill, on April 19th 2005. The bill makes it unlawful for employers to retaliate against their workers for discussing wages. It also makes it illegal for employers to include a clause in the personnel manual dictating that workers cannot discuss wages and then force workers to sign the document. This bill is a great victory for low-wage workers who will have further protection to discuss wages and then possibly start a union. Also, women and people of color will have additional protection when trying to discover differences in salaries and compensation rates for equal work with male and white co-workers.

 

H.403 was passed in 2005 which instructed the Vermont Fiscal Office (JFO) to calculate the livable wages on an annual basis within the Basic Needs Budget Study. As introduced, the bill also instructed the JFO and Legislative Joint Fiscal Committee to review the methodology for the Study every two years. The livable wage figures are a vital resource for setting wages and for expanding the discussion on poverty by providing an alternative economic indicator (livable wage vs. federal poverty line). During the last week of the session the Senate amended the bill to produce the study every other year with a supplement report during the interterm year to reflect major changes in the cost of living in Vermont. The livable wage figures will now be produced on a 2 year basis. The next study is schedule to be produced in January of 2007.

 

The Vermont House and Senate reached a compromise on bill S.80 at the end of 2005 that increased the minimum wage from $7.00 to $7.25 starting on Jan. 1, 2006 and then will increase the rate by a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) based on the CPI-U index every January 1st starting in 2007. This bill makes Vermont the first state in the country to legislate an annual cost of living adjustment to our state minimum wage.

 

As part of the VLWC's Walmart campaign, there was a large turnout for the Walmart Awareness Week in November. Across the state, over a dozen social justice, workers rights, and environmental organizations hosted over 20 screenings of the film ‘Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.’ about the world’s largest corporation, Wal-Mart, as part of national ‘Wal-Mart Awareness Week.’ More than 1,000 Vermonters turned out in every corner of the state to learn more about Wal-Mart’s high costs to workers, taxpayers, local businesses and community character.

 

2004
On January 1, 2004, the Vermont minimum wage increased from $6.25 to $6.75 due to VLWC and our allies' hard work to push an increase during the 2003 Vermont legislative session. Over ten thousand Vermonters started the new year with a $0.50 raise.


In September, the Vermont Department of Labor & Industry finalized the Minimum Wage Rules which dictate what deductions may be made from a worker’s paycheck in Vermont. The new rules can be read on their website and they went into effect on September 1st. You can read the rules at http://www.state.vt.us/labind/Wagehour/rule-final.htm. In January 2004, the Vermont Department of Labor and Industry proposed changes to the rules which govern the Vermont minimum wage. These rules define what deductions an employer can make from an employee's paycheck for uniforms and employer-provided housing. The Vermont Livable Wage Campaign believed these changes were a direct contradiction to the increase of the Vermont minimum wage rate from $6.25 an hour to $6.75 an hour on January 1, 2004 and called for the Department not make these changes to the rules.

The uniform and housing rules have remained the same thanks to over 300 Vermonters contacting Labor & Industry to oppose these changes. The final rules contain clear and more concise language. The uniform language is clearer than the previous rules--absolutely NO deductions may be made for maintenance or providing a uniform. For room and board, employees are still required to provide written authorization for goods or services deductions (i.e. housing or board), otherwise the employer needs to have proof of the employee's intention to pay for these goods/services. Also, caps on the amount allowed to be deducted from employee paychecks for room and board remain in place. All in all, this is a victory for our Campaign! Thank you to all of you for your support on this fight!

In February, the Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union-ESP workers (school support staff, over 95% women) settled a contract a one-year contract with a 4.25 raise after a 18 month active livable wage contract campaign. The contract falls short for the 17% raise they were seeking but they preserved their health benefits without an increase in the employees’ co-pay. Their new contract will expire in July 2004 so the school support staff are already gearing up for another round of negotiations and will focus solely on securing the livable wage figure into their contracts in the next contract. VLWC worked closely with these support staff workers by educating union leaders on livable wages, holding educational meetings in the community, mobilizing support at school board meetings and in the local paper. We look forward to working with them this summer.

In March, the City of Burlington strengthened the City's Livable Wage Ordinance to require all contractors to provide written oaths that they pay all employees the livable wage stated in the ordinance (currently set at the urban livable wage figure for a single person with no children as calculated by the Vermont Joint Fiscal Office). VLWC urged the city not to change the livable wage number cited in the ordinance to become an average of the last two years as originally proposed in the beginning of the year. For 2004, $11.92/hour (urban figure, for a single person with no children) is the base wage for all city municipal workers as of January 2004 (excludes Burlington school workers).

This spring VLWC began work on a new education project to develop a high school curriculum on economics and livable wages. Several Vermont high school teachers will help VLWC draft and implement the new curriculum this fall in four or five pilot schools. VLWC will base some of the curriculum on educational resources developed by United for a Fair Economy as well as incorporate unique livable wage popular education activities from our existing workshop materials.

2004 also marks a renewed effort to increase our coalition of faith communities, non profit organizations, unions, and individual activists on the VLWC steering committee and endorser organizations. So far this year we have welcomed the Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union-ESP workers (support staff workers), VT-National Education Association and the Unitarian Social Action Ministry of Burlington as new organizational members to VLWC's steering committee and several individual activists from around the state. Please contact Emma Mulvaney-Stanak at 802-863-2345 x8 for more information on endorsing the campaign or joining the VLWC steering committee.

2003
VLWC successfully lobbied the Vermont Legislature to increase the Vermont minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $6.75 in January 2004 and then to $7.00 in January 2005. This increase in the base wage for Vermont workers will place Vermont in the top five states in the United States for highest minimum wage rates in 2005. Although VLWC tried to include a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to the bill, the ending compromise was a $0.75 increase over two years. This increase will give a raise to over ten thousand Vermonters. VLWC mobilized dozens of Vermonters to provide testimony during legislative hearings on the minimum wage and organized a "Flip-Flop" action on the Statehouse lawn when Governor Douglas flip-flopped on his support for a COLA increase. In April, VLWC organized a livable wage rally in Burlington drawing over 250 union members, students, faith leaders, and community members to gather support for the minimum wage bill and to rally support for current livable wage campaigns.

VLWC was one of several co-sponsors of the People's Roundtable for a Fair and Healthy Economy in March which brought together over 200 Vermonters to discuss the need for fair taxes, livable wages, quality public services, and a healthy economy. The findings were released in August, and in November and December several organizations and unions sponsored four regional People's Roundtable public meetings in Brattleboro, Bennington, Rutland, and Springfield. Over 150 Vermonters spoke out on economic issues ranging from sustainable business, livable wage to economic development which benefits working Vermonters.

In December, The Peace and Justice Center released Phase 8: Nickel and Dimed, Poverty and Livable Wage Jobs of the Job Gap Study. For the first time in the Job Gap Study history, the study included expanded data and analysis based on race and gender. VLWC now has detailed information on how many women and people of color do not make a livable wage, live in poverty, and work in certain occupations proportionately compared to white, male counterparts.

By the end of 2003, our coalition grew to include, Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, Vermont Ecumenical Council, and the Washington-Orange Labor Council as new organizational members to VLWC's steering committee.

2002
In June, Phase 7: Basic Needs, Livable Wage Jobs and the Cost of Under-Employment of the Job Gap Study was released by the Peace and Justice Center.

2001
Throughout state government, agencies incorporated livable wage language and goals, based on the Job Gap Study research, into their work plans and for negotiating contracts. For example, 6,000 state employees won a new contract with a special provision that establishes $8.10/hr (Vermont's single person livable wage rate at the time) as a minimum wage for all permanent full- and part-time workers.

The Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which distributes $11 million annually in federal CDBG funds for economic and housing development, has adopted the livable wage as one of its criteria in the application and review process.

2000
VLWC led a successful and elaborate legislative agenda in 2004. VLWC led efforts to pass Act 119 (2000) which raised the minimum wage in Vermont from $5.75 to $6.25 per hour; put an additional $3.5 million into the Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit program; required the Vermont Joint Fiscal Office to calculate basic needs budgets/livable wages for families over the next four years; required additional reporting on wages and hours by employers, and more! Up to 35,000 Vermonters received up to $1,250 in additional income in the year 2001!

Burlington expanded its Livable Wage Ordinance to include all contractors with the city.

At its June 2000 annual meeting, the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution supporting the creation of livable wage jobs and the efforts of the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign. In addition, the Unitarian Universalist Society in Burlington passed a resolution to pay their employees a livable wage and to purchase supplies and services from livable wage employers whenever possible.

In July, Phase 6 : The Leaky Bucket: An Analysis of Vermont's Dependence on Imports of the Job Gap Study was released.

1999
Through a combination of education (the Vermont Job Gap Study) and advocacy (mobilization), VLWC led efforts to pass Act 21 (1999) which raised the state's minimum wage from $5.25 to $5.75 per hour. Over 15,000 working Vermonters received a raise! Furthermore, the Legislature appropriated $60,000 to a Summer Legislative Study Committee to extend the work of the Job Gap Study and develop policy recommendations for how to create a livable income for all Vermonters over time (See 1999 Livable Income under "Livable Income" to read about the findings of this committee).

In July, the Peace and Justice Center released Phase 5: Basic Needs and a Livable Wage 1998 Update of the Job Gap Study.

1998
In February, Phase 3: The Social Cost of Underemployment of the Job Gap Study was released.

In 1998, local livable wage coalitions around the state worked with elected officials in Burlington, Montpelier and Barre City to adopt livable wage ordinances for city employees ($7.50/hr in Burlington, $7.91/hr. in Montpelier and Barre). Approximately 800 municipal employees were covered by these ordinances.

Many businesses began calling VLWC to say that they decided to pay livable wages to their employees. VLWC worked with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility to release a Livable Jobs Toolkit for small business owners which provides the outline and tools for employers to better support their employees.

In October, Phase 4: Policy Recommendations of the Vermont Job Gap Study was released and discussed policy changes proposed by VLWC to support livable wages and better economic development.

1997
Based on the methodology of the Minnesota Job Gap Study, the first Job Gap Study Phase 1: Basic Needs and a Livable Wage was released in January. Phase 2: Livable Wage Jobs: The Job Gap was released in May.

Town Resolutions
Residents of 21 towns passed resolutions at their annual town meetings calling on the state legislature to do more to create livable wage jobs (Bethel, Braintree, Brattleboro, Brookfield, Burlington, Castleton, East Montpelier, Hinesburg, Huntington, Marshfield, Plainfield, Putney, Randolph, Richmond, Rochester, Starksboro, Waitsfield, Weathersfield, Weybridge, Winooski, and Woodbury).


 

General Media Coverage

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2007

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Town Resolutions

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