Resources

Resources

The Peace & Justice Center offers a social justice library, free wi-fi access, and a community meeting room. Visit our Allied Assistance page for a full list of services we offer the Peace & Justice Community.

The PJC produces a bi-weekly e-news and a quarterly newsletter that highlights upcoming PJC events, current events and social justice work around the state, and articles on the issues of racial justice, economic justice, fair trade, and militarism.

The PJC library is full of books and DVDs that will help expand your knowledge on a wide array of issues. You can check these materials out of the library for free.

Vermont Livable Wage Campaign

Study Phases

For years the debate about Vermont’s economic development has been dominated by too few people and too few ideas. And there has been little accountability because many of Vermont’s policies and programs have not been subjected to rigorous evaluation. That is why the Peace & Justice Center conducted the Job Gap Study. The goal with the study is to examine assumptions about economic development and job creation; provide information to help guide decision-makers; and recommend new indicators to measure the performance of the economy and the effectiveness of State programs and policies.

Other Reports

Created in 1996 by the PJC, the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign (VLWC) was a coalition of local living wage activists, non-profit advocacy groups, unions, and religious communities. The VLWC engaged in research, advocacy, educational programs, and grassroots organizing in it’s dedication to ensuring that every Vermonter receives a livable wage or income.

The VLWC was based around the belief that all Vermonters have the right to a livable wage job that meets their basic needs, to organize themselves into a union, and to work in a respectful work environment.

The VLWC focused on building a statewide movement of working people and their allies who were fighting to win livable wages through community-based organizing and union solidarity efforts. The campaign believed that our hard-earned tax dollars should be invested in our communities to promote livable wage job creation rather than corporate subsidies which threaten the economy and culture of our state. While the VLWC was non-partisan, the campaign did engage in public policy and legislative initiatives that increase the income and expand the rights of workers in Vermont.

The Vermont Livable Wage Campaign was a coalition of local living wage groups, non-profit advocacy groups, unions, and religious communities dedicated to ensuring that every Vermonter receives a livable wage or income.

VLWC Accomplishments:
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 eleven years between 1997 and 2008, 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).

In the spring of 2008 the VLWC  hosted “Equal Time Radio”  on WDEV in Waterbury – FM 96.1 AM 550.

Click the links to listen to the show!

May 19, 2008 – GUEST: Debbie Ingraham, Exec. Dir. Of Vermont Interfaith Action and Sue Brooks, a leader in VIA

April 28, 2008 – GUEST: Con Hogan, Co-Chair of the Washington County Hunger Council and former Sec. of AHS, and Dorigen Keeney, Director of Public Policy and Research for the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger

April 14, 2008 – GUEST: Matt Peake, Business Agent for Barre Granite Cutters Association

April 07, 2008 – GUEST: Erhard Mahnke, VT Affordable Housing Coalition

March 24, 2008 – GUEST: Allen Bradley, Freightliner 5 – North Carolina  & Robert Whiteside, Freightliner 5 – North Carolina

March 17, 2008 – GUEST: Erhard Mahnke, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition

March 10, 2008 – GUEST: Cheryl King Fisher, Montpelier resident and founder of Citizens for Community and Local Prosperity

March 04, 2008 – GUEST: Rep. Sarah Edwards from Brattleboro about Representative Town Meeting unique process

February 28, 2008 – GUEST: Beth Haggart, Part-time faculty member at UVM and Steve Finner, UPV/AFT Vermont

February 12, 2008 – GUEST: Hal Cohen, ED on Central Vermont Community Action

February 08, 2008 – Vermont Edition on VPR

February 07, 2008 – GUEST: Jen Gagnon, Food Service Worker, Edmunds School, Burlington AFSCME 1343, 3 years Food Service, Child in BHS

Basic Livable Wage Questions

1. What is a livable wage?
2. How much is a livable wage?

3. Who uses the livable wage figures? Does anyone?

4. How many Vermonters don’t earn a livable wage?
5. Do women in Vermont make less than men?
6. I heard on the national level people of color make less than whites. Is that true in Vermont?

7. How do people not earning a livable wage get by?


What is a livable wage?

A livable wage is the hourly wage or annual income sufficient to meet a family’s basic needs plus all applicable Federal and State taxes. Basic needs include food, housing, child care, transportation, health care, clothing, household and personal expenses, insurance, and 5% savings.

How much is a livable wage?
Because a livable wage is based on family size, these is no one livable wage number. Since 2001, the State of Vermont Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) has estimated the cost of basic needs and the equivalent livable wage, based on methodology first developed in Phase 1 of the VT Job Gap Study and expanded by a 1999 Special Legislative Committee.  As part of Act 59 ö passed during the 2005 VT Legislative Session JFO updates these calculations every odd numbered year on or before January 15th.  The report  will be updated during the interim year to reflect any significant economic, policy or statutory changes that impact the information within the report. Read the 2017 JFO report.

2016 Livable Wage = $13.03 per earner per hour [1]

2016 Basic Needs Budget Wages, Per Earner [2]
Family Type Urban Rural
Hourly wage Hourly wage
Single Person $17.76 $15.76
Single Person, Shared Housing $14.46 $12.98  
Single Parent, One Child  $29.50  $25.11
Single Parent, Two Children  $38.16  $32.52
Two Adults, Two Children

(one wage earner)

 $32.63  $30.67
Two Parents, Two Children

(two wage earners)

$21.97 $20.35

2017 LW Source: Basic Needs Report 2017, Vermont Joint Fiscal Office, January 2017 Study. http://www.leg.state.vt.us/jfo/Reports%20by%20Subject.htm

[1] This is the average of the urban and rural rate per earner for Two Adults with No Children.
[2] Basic Needs Budget wages are presented for family configurations with employer-sponsored health care.

Who uses the livable wage figures? Does anyone? 
Many Vermont businesses, employers, non-profits, public service organizations and local governments use the livable wage calculations every year. Data collected by the JFO sets a standard wage for employers and the state to help businesses set fair and adequate compensation levels. The livable wage data also provides a guideline for non-profits and public service organizations when conducting community needs assessments. Many more organizations use the livable wage figures to set various policies including scholarship qualifying criteria for students and Vermont families. Moreover, the State of Vermont is leading the country in providing a needed alternative economic indicator which reflects Vermonters basic needs compared to the antiquated federal poverty measure, an unrealistically low indicator of poverty.

How many Vermonters don’t earn a livable wage?
According to information from the Vermont Department of Employment and Training, 45% of jobs in Vermont have a median wage that pays less than $11.58/hr ($24,086/yr.), the livable wage for a single person in 2003.  [Note: This figure does not include tipped employees such as waitresses/waiters and bartenders.]

The Peace & Justice Center recently released Phase 8 of the Vermont Job Gap Study. The Study revealed that one out of four full-time workers (26%) earned less than a livable wage for a singleperson ($24,086/yr) in 2003. Moreover, 29% of single people, 72% of single parents with one child, 82% of single parents with two children, 55% of families of four with one wage earner and 35% of families of four with two wage earners do NOT make a livable wage based on their family size here in Vermont. See above for the six different livable wage figures based on family sizes as calculated by the Joint Fiscal Office.

Also, the reality for women and people of color is even more stark. Thirty-five percent of women compared to nineteen percent of men did not earn a livable wage in Vermont. For people of color there is a similar disparity. Thirty-six percent of people of color compared to twenty-four percent of whites did not earn a livable wage for single person.

Do women in Vermont make less than men?
In terms of poverty, almost one-third (31%) of all families headed by a single woman with children under 18 are in poverty (The Vermont Job Gap Study- Phase 8). More than one-third of ALL women who worked full time in 1999 did not earn a livable wage for a single person. Thirty-five percent of women compared to nineteen percent of men did not earn a livable wage in Vermont.

I heard on the national level people of color make less than whites. Is that true in Vermont?
According to phase 8 of the Vermont Job Gap Study, the unemployment rate for non-whites was more than twice that of whites. More than one out of five Blacks and North American Natives were in poverty in 1999 (phase 8). Thirty-six percent of people of color compared to twenty-four percent of whites did not earn a livable wage for single person. White median household income was 51% higher than that of Native Peoples in 1999 and 30% higher than Black households.

How do people not earning a livable wage get by?
Many people don’t make up the difference and do without basic necessities. (For example, over 60,000 Vermonters have no health care.) Others rely on public assistance programs like food stamps, the Low Income Heat Assistance Program, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), and Medicaid. Some of us live in substandard housing, or pay a large percentage of our income for housing. People receive help from family members, work two jobs, barter, or work under the table. More and more people depend on credit, which then means that meeting payments becomes more and more difficult. The total effect of this picture is that many Vermonters lack basic economic security, depend on state and federal public assistance programs and face a declining standard of living.

Most Americans believe that someone who works full-time should be able to meet his/her basic needs without resorting to public financial assistance.  Said in another way, they believe in livable jobs.

Livable jobs provide a way for business to benefit from offering their employees livable wages, benefits and humane working conditions.  Livable jobs include livable wages but also beneficial work arrangements like flexible schedules, paid sick leave and job security.  Businesses providing livable jobs are able to attract and keep employees while improving productivity.  Paying decent wages and creating a quality workplace can actually be a source of competitive advantage, not a harmful cost, to employers.

Employees who are unable to afford their basic needs struggle to maintain productivity and focus on being a reliable employee.  Businesses that do not provide livable jobs often experience high turnover which creates recruiting and training costs, as well as lost productivity.

Providing livable jobs pays for the costs of higher wages and benefits through increased productivity and quality of work as well as decreased recruitment and training expenditures.  Non-livable jobs actually have high costs to employers.  Through livable jobs both Vermont employees and Vermont employers can benefit.

The Situation as of 2008

57% of Vermont’s private-sector employers offered NO paid sick days to their workers, leaving over 106,000 Vermonters without paid sick leave.  Workers were forced to choose between paying the bills and taking time off to care for their and their family’s health because they do not have paid sick leave.  Nationally 47% of workers in the private sector were not guaranteed paid sick leave, putting the U.S. behind 139 other countries that provide this basic right to all workers.

The lack of sick leave forces people to attend work when they are ill or neglect to take care of sick family members because otherwise they will suffer economic costs from missed work and even risk being reprimanded at work.  When people show-up for work sick they harm themselves while presenting a risk to their coworkers and the public through the spread of contagions.  When workers cannot recuperate from illness their productivity and ability to work declines, which hurts both the employee and the employer.

What We Are Doing

The Vermont Livable Wage Campaign (VLWC) was working to improve the present situation and enact change that will provide universal access to paid sick leave for all working Vermonters.  We worked in coalition with other organizations to build a movement for paid sick leave and demand legislation that will protect all Vermonters.  Our goal was for all people who work more then 30 hours per week to be guaranteed 7 paid sick days annually and sick leave to be pro-rated for part-time workers.

  • We worked alongside the Vermont Workers Center (VWC) who has launched a “Healthcare is a Human Right” campaign.  The VWC works to change what is politically possible for healthcare in Vermont and build a movement to reshape the debate around healthcare.  They asked Vermonters to take a sick day on May 1st, 2009 to go to the Statehouse and show that Vermonters are suffering under the current system. However, there were around 106,000 Vermonters that don’t have any paid sick days and before they can come to Montpelier on May 1st, 2009 they need to be guaranteed paid sick days. Thus, both organizers from the VLWC and VWC will be worked during the summer and fall canvassing all around Vermont.  Organizers knocked on doors and attended public events to raise awareness about sick days, get petitions signed and get people to fill out surveys about their thoughts on healthcare.  We collected signatures for a petition in support of paid sick days that was given to the state legislature to demonstrate the wide public support.
  • Along with these organizing efforts we worked closely with the guaranteed paid sick day coalition members, including Voices for Vermont’s Children, to develop a legislative and media strategy to win Vermonters access to sick days. This broad coalition of advocacy organizations, women’s organizations, unions and businesses brought a diverse and effective organizational capacity to the campaign, while allowing for a large cross section of Vermonters to be engaged with the issues. We wanted to push for legislation that will give workers the legal right to sick leave.
  • We were able to build upon past work and renew a partnership with the UVM Medical College and a group of 2nd year medical students through a public health project titled “Balancing Health and Economies: The Public Health Impact of Sick Days.” This project looked at the public health implications of the lack of paid sick days and the damage done to society by workers not having the ability to take sick leave. This project followed-up on a Catamount Health Care report-our project conducted in the fall of 2007.

Hundreds of Vermonters Turn out for Wal-Mart Awareness Week (Nov 2005):
In Calais 40 people squeezed into the Maple Corner Community Center. Organizers in Norwich closed the doors and turned folks away after nearly 80 people crammed into a hall designed for 50. Over 450 people crowded into a University of Vermont auditorium designed for 300 and dozens more were turned away. What drew so many people out recently into the chilly, damp November air? The latest documentary by renowned filmmaker Robert Greenwald: ‘Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.’

Across the state, over a dozen social justice, workers rights, and environmental organizations hosted over 20 screenings of the film 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. Preliminary estimates are that nearly 1 million people attended one of the more than 7,000 screenings across the world.

With Wal-Mart’s plans for building and expanding three new stores in Vermont, public interest in the issue is high and sparked a lively civic debate at many of the screenings. Over 250 people came to the St. Michael’s screening where two former Wal-Mart workers from Jonquière, Quebec, and a union organizer from the United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada, spoke about their efforts to organize a union in 2004. Just after a majority of workers voted to unionize the Jonquière store, Wal-Mart announced its plans to close the store in May 2005. Their reason? Low sales. In September, however, the Quebec Labor Board fined Wal-Mart for unlawfully closing the store in retaliation against workers for unionizing.

Other tales of Wal-Mart’s disregard for anything beyond their bottom line are highlighted in the film. Business owners, local officials, Wal-Mart workers and everyday people tell poignant, compelling stories. For communities wrestling with Wal-Mart coming to town, their stories offer a unique perspective on how and why it is important to ensure the multinational corporation respects the people and places where they do business.

Background Information on “High Standards for Big Box Campaign”
The Peace & Justice Center’s Vermont Livable Wage Campaign (VLWC), Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) and Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) launched the “Higher Standards for Big Box Campaign” to create a more coordinated effort to raise the standards of Big Box retail employers who wish to do business in Vermont. The goal of the partnership was to use Wal-Mart’s plans for expansion in Vermont as a focal point to raise the low-road standards of retail employers as a whole in Vermont. VLWC focused on public education and building a statewide media campaign. VNRC worked to educate and support local citizen groups to advance less damaging solutions, including working with concerned citizens in the local and state development review processes, passing legislation to cap Big Box development and promoting community-owned discount stores as a viable alternative to Big Boxes. VWC brought workers into the campaign, supports workers through their Workers’ Rights Hotline, and leads communities in the development of Community Benefits Agreements.

The Story of Wal-Mart in Vermont

Little more than 20 years ago, Vermont was the only state in the nation without a Wal-Mart store. In 2007 the state has four Wal-Marts, and proposals were pending for three bigger stores. Because Vermonters understand the high costs the giant retailer often has on local businesses, downtowns and rural character, citizens have been fairly successful at forcing Wal-Mart to come into the state on our terms. When Wal-Mart built smaller stores in downtown or already-developed locations in Berlin, Bennington and Rutland, there was little objection. Yet, when Wal-Mart sought to develop a 100,000 square foot store in a cornfield two miles outside the city of St. Albans over a decade ago, VNRC, Preservation Trust of Vermont, and citizens fought the giant retailer all the way to the Supreme Court and won. The court found that the proposed store would harm communities, local business and the economy. Now, however, Wal-Mart is back. And they are bold. Their proposals are no longer ‘Vermont scale.’ Wal-Mart proposes to build a 160,000 square foot store in the same St. Albans cornfield and more than double the size of the current store in Bennington. Their was a Wal-Mart proposal is for a 150,000 square foot store in the rural, remote Northeast Kingdom town of Derby.

Wal-Mart’s increasingly brazen, one-size-fits-all development model has little regard for the communities and people where they locate. In the mid-1990s and again in 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the whole state of Vermont as endangered specifically because Wal-Mart’s plans for expansion threaten the state’s downtowns, rural character and quality of life. The ‘Higher Standards for Big Box Campaign’ aims to avoid the damaging consequences Wal-Mart’s practices can have on the towns and people where they do business. By drawing together the interests of businesses, workers, environmentalists, and people seeking access to affordable goods, we can better hold Wal-Mart and other Big Box development accountable to the high standards and concerns of Vermonters.

What Impact? Vermont Statistics on Wal-Mart

The High Costs of Wal-Mart on Communities and Workers, as of 2007:

  • A  June 1994 independent economic study by Humstone/Muller found that over 10 years, Wal-Mart would create 214 retail jobs in St. Albans but cause the loss of 381 jobs — a net loss of 167 jobs in Franklin County.
  • $1 of public revenue generated by Wal-Mart costs taxpayers $2.501
  • Wal-Mart imports 10 percent  of all Chinese goods sold in the U.S., and 70 percent of what Wal-Mart sells is made in China. [1]
  • In each Wal-Mart store there is a mandate that the managers have to reduce their expenses by 2 percent each year.  Unfortunately, labor costs (i.e. employees) are considered an expense that can be reduced.
  • Wal-Mart’s objective is to reduce operating costs as much as possible. Wal-Mart defines full-time employees (FT) as working 34 hours per week. The average wage for Wal-Mart’s most common jobs, sales associates and cashiers, is $7.92 to $8.23 an hour.[2] The Vermont livable wage is $12.37/hour and defines FT as 40 hours a week. [3]
  • Of the 421 Vermont big box retail workers who accessed Medicaid last year, 286 worked at Wal-Mart (68%). [4]
  • After the development of the big boxes in Williston, the town had to increase the sales tax by 1 percent to support the additional costs the boxes generated (such as police, fire, roads, etc). [5]
  • Over a 10-year period, communities with a Wal-Mart were poorer than they were before. A Wal-Mart superstore in St. Albans would need to attract business from 75 percent of the patrons that now support local businesses. [6] 

ALTERNATIVES:

  • Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) — Many labor coalitions across the country are using CBA’s to ensure that development projects really benefit local residents. CBAs are legally binding documents that become part of the city’s agreement with the developer. The agreement contains numerous provisions stipulating exactly how the development will benefit the community.
  • Square footage size caps — Limiting the size of stores allows for new development but also allows other small-scale, family owned businesses to compete with large-scale retailers. A proposal to set a retail cap was introduced in 2005 to the Vermont Legislature and will be taken up again in 2006.
  • Downtown locations — Directing development to places where infrastructure — water, sewer, roads, emergency services etc. — already exists helps strengthen Vermont’s historic downtowns and curb sprawl.
  • Community owned retail stores — A viable alternative to Big Box chain stores, ‘Mercantiles,’ are finding success in communities across the nation. These community designed, supported and managed retail stores provide shoppers access to quality products at discounted prices.

[1]  “Vermont Wal-Mart Watch”, “Wal-Mart’s Impact” http://www.vermontwalmartwatch.org Oct. 28,2005.

[2] “Institute for Policy Studies”, “Wal-Mart’s Pay Gap” http://www.ips-dc.org/projects/global_econ/walmart_pay_gap.htm Oct 28,2005.

[3] “Wake Up Wal-Mart”, “Wal-Mart Facts” http://www.wakeupwalmart.com Oct. 28, 2005.

[4] Casa, Kathryn. Vermont Guardian, “Employees at Vermont’s top companies enrolled in Medicaid health plans.” April 18, 2005.

[5] “Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth”, “Facts to consider” http://www.nwcrg.org Oct. 28, 2005.

[6] “Wake Up Wal-Mart” “A few facts about Wal-Mart” http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/community/VT-franklin-county-20050609.html

Media by People of Color

Americanah by Chiminandah Ngozi Adichie
A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual African American Fiction  edited by Devon Carbado, Dwight A. McBride, and Donald Weise
The Book of Unknown Americans By Cristina Henriquez
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Boy With Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junor Diaz
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Dance Dance Revolution by Cathy Park Hong
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
In the Language of My Captor by Shane McCrae
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Naturalism by Wendy Xu
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
Push by Sapphire
Quicksand by Nella Larsen
The River Flows North by Graciela Limón
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Seam by Tarfia Faizullah
Secondhand World by Katherine Min
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Women Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
The Wrath & The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

Black Power 96.3 FM (FL)
KPOO 89.5 FM (CA)
WAOK 1380 AM (Atlanta, GA)

American Koko (abc.com)
An African City (YouTube)
Array Now (Collection of Independent films by POC)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Giants (Issa Rae Productions)
Fruitvale Station (2014)
Insecure (HBO)
Mudbound (2017)
Moonlight (2016)
Queen Sugar (OWN)
She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix)
The Get Down (Netflix)
The Root TV (online)
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
Underground (WGN America)
Atlanta (FX)
Jane The Virgin (The CW)
BlacKkKlansman (2018)
Love Is___ (OWN)
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Celia (Netflix)
Todo Sobre El Asado (Netflix)
Marias: Faith in Womanhood (2015)