Sanders Decries Plight of Workers on Labor Day

By:  Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press

Burlington Free Press Masthead

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. called for a major public jobs program during a Labor Day speech Monday in Burlington, saying that is the only way to tackle what he sees as a permanent unemployment crisis in the United States. 

“What we need is a massive federal jobs program, rebuilding our infrastructure, transforming our energy system and putting millions of people back to work,” Sanders told about 200 union activists and supporters at Battery Park. 

Sanders said that the nation’s official 6.1 percent unemployment does not take into account long-term unemployed. He said the real unemployment rate is 12 percent, and is even higher among young people and African American youths. 

Sanders, who is contemplating a presidential bid for 2016, said he traveled to North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi last week, states where the minimum wage has not be raised above the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. 

“We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage,” Sanders said. “Nobody in this country should be working 40 hours a week and living in poverty.” 

Sanders was the only elected politician who spoke at the annual Labor Day event, although a number of state and local candidates circulated among the crowd, including Secretary of State Jim Condos and Auditor Douglas Hoffer. 

Among others who spoke were leaders of unions representing Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus drivers, University of Vermont faculty and staff, state day care workers and Fairpoint Communications employees. 

Mike Spillane, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 2326 in Vermont, told the crowd there had been no progress in reachingagreement on a new contract with Fairpoint because the company won’t compromise on what he said was its plan to cut benefits for workers. 

“You would think a company with fair in its name would have a clue what that means. But they don’t,” Spillane said. 

The company declared in impasse in negotiations last week after four months of talks and the union has told members to e on “standby” for a possible strike. 

A representative for FairPoint did not respond to a telephone message requesting comment Monday afternoon. 

Also speaking was Kike Balcazar, member of Migrant Justice, a group representing Mexican farm workers employed on dairy farms around the state. 

Balcazar, who said he has worked as a migrant worker at farms in the state for two years, praised the state passing a law that went into effect Monday discouraging police from profiling individuals based on their immigration status.