by Alice Dubenetsky
Collective bargaining in the public sector has sunk to such lows that bargaining, in many instances, has become outright bullying. When public unions hit an obstruction, they can rally their membership, dip into their coffers, and pay protestors to march, intimidate, and strong-arm politicians, school board members and anyone else who stands in the way of their agenda.
Recently, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) ran into a considerable glitch in their plan to unionize Vermont’s child care providers. As it happens, a number of the folks they want to “help” have rejected the offer and have mounted a campaign to stave of representation “at the table” that they claim is unnecessary and would create a financial burden in the form of union dues. The union drive also met a brick wall in the Vermont Senate when Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell stymied their efforts by refusing to move the bill out of committee. Unions don’t care to be thwarted, and the AFT is no exception. It wasn’t long before Vermont’s AFL-CIO president, Ben Johnson, appeared in Campbell’s office for a little “union way” chat. During his visit with Campbell, he proffered a piece of paper on which the amount of union contributions to political campaigns was spelled out for Campbell’s benefit. Campbell’s reaction was not quite what Johnson expected, and only hardened his resolve not to move forward with House bill 97.
The union then switched tactics, and paid dozens of child care workers, all wearing matching shirts presumably provided by AFT, in the vein of the ubiquitous purple-shirted SEIU protesters, to meet with Governor Shumlin and apply political thumbscrews to the chief executive and Campbell. Soon after, Campbell capitulated and agreed to hold Senate hearings on the child care issue.
The incident prompted Vermont COP acting Chairman Paul Carroccio to contact Attorney General William Sorrell to investigate, saying, in part; “This type of behavior is reprehensible and has no place in the Vermont State House. Bullying and intimidating lawmakers as they consider bills in not the Vermont Way, and all Vermonters should be shocked and appalled at he actions of this special interest group…This despicable behavior cannot and should not be swept under the rug.”
Carroccio called upon Attorney General Sorrell to investigate whether laws were broken, including the federal Hobbs Act, which was enacted to prohibit racketeering and extortion in labor disputes.
Vermont is a soft target for the teachers unions. School boards are mainly comprised of citizen volunteers, who are ill equipped to bargain successfully in the world of realm lawyers and union representatives who are able and willing to devote vast resources toward winning concessions. The school boards must weigh educational goals with fiscal realities, at the same time fighting propaganda distributed by the union to parents, students and the general public. Most school boards do not have the wherewithal to counteract these campaigns. If the boards do not give in to demands readily, the unions have the big weapon – a teacher’s strike – in their arsenal to deploy as needed.
Teachers unions have a history of strong-arm tactics in Vermont, using the threat of strikes and demonstrations to force school boards to hand over ever increasing wages and benefits to their members, even as the private sector struggles to stay afloat. Just last year the Vermont NEA and the South Burlington Teachers Association, after bargaining with the South Burlington School Board, took exception to the lawful imposition of a contract on the teachers. The union, in a stunning display of hubris and union thuggery, threatened to picket the private business (a law practice) of the school Board Chairman, Rich Cassidy, if bargaining did not resume. Cassidy felt he had no option but to withdraw from the process because he felt his role had been compromised by the threats and intimidation.
In a recent letter to No Child Care Union in Vermont organizer Elsa Bosma, that provider recounted her experience. “I was also contacted to add my name to the support of H.97 in a recent letter… I did not have the time to fully digest all the info they gave me. The next thing I knew I was receiving a phone call from our representative, Harvey Smith, saying that I personally called to voice my support to this bill. I DID NOT call Harvey, they used my name without me knowing it!! That alone turned me against joining their cause. I was asked just the other day if I would take time out of my busy day to call other people and ask for their support. I do not and have not agreed to call people.”
Now, Vermont’s child care providers, who are often independent business owners and sole proprietors, are being subjected to similar tactics. They say they have been visited repeatedly at their homes, which is often also their place of business, and cajoled, intimidated and inveigled upon to call their representatives right away and support the unionization effort. In at least one case, a fraudulent phone call was made in the name of a child care provider who just happened to discover the deceit during a discussion with her representative.
To date, because Attorney General Sorrell has not received a formal complaint, he has taken no action to investigate the AFL-CIO or the AFT in these matters. It remains to be seen whether their representatives will continue to strong-arm Vermonter child care providers to fall in line and accept a product many of them don’t want or need.