Vermont vote paves way for early educators to organize

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The Vermont House of Representatives on May 6 passed a bill guaranteeing early educators the right to organize and collectively bargain with the state—the last major legislative hurdle in a four-year fight to bring true professional voice and status to early care and education providers across Vermont.

The 78-59 House vote came a few weeks after the state Senate—the chamber where similar bills had run aground in recent years—approved companion legislation by an almost 3-1 margin. The bill now moves to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin, who says he will enthusiastically sign it into law.

"This is a great step in a long-term effort by early childhood educators to secure a voice to strengthen their profession and advocate on behalf of the children and families they serve," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Now, early child care providers in Vermont will have the opportunity to organize and win a stronger voice. We thank the Legislature for standing with early childhood educators and look forward to the governor signing this into law." Passage of this legislation was a centerpiece of Vermont’s effort to reclaim the promise of early care and learning.

Vermonters reclaiming the promise

"Elated" is how one early education provider described the mood in the field following the House vote. Providers across the state tracked the floor vote through Vermont Public Radio streaming audio and Facebook posts on the Vermont Early Educators United-AFT page. The final vote came after representatives soundly rejected an amendment that would have prohibited the collection of "fair share" fees if child care providers choose to form a union.

Kay Curtis, an early educator who runs Happy Hands: A School for Little People in Brattleboro, says the landmark action in the House was a win not only for providers but also for children and families who deserve high-quality services across the system. "We want to make sure that working families have the support they need and that Vermont has the best early education system in the country," she told Vermont Public Radio.

"I so appreciate the House members who have shown support for our basic right to come together and organize," says Stephanie Wheelock of Play 2 Learn Child Care in Rutland, who listened to the debate online. "I am proud to be working with my fellow providers to improve quality for the children we serve and to ensure that we are paid fairly for the important work we do every day."

Vermont early care and education activists seemed to be everywhere during the current legislative session—their trademark blue T-shirts showed up in the corridors of the Capitol on an almost weekly basis. For years, providers have been engaging in conversations with lawmakers, making their voices heard through social media and petitions, participating in community events and town hall discussions with parents and families, generating editorials and letters to the editor, and building alliances with progressive organizations across the state. Vermont Early Educators United-AFT activists commemorated Worthy Wage Day on May 1 by traveling to Montpelier to participate in a May Day rally at the state Capitol.

"Finally!" exclaimed provider Judy Trombley after the vote in the House that paved the way to the governor's signature. "They knew they weren't getting rid of the blue shirts!" [Vermont Early Educators United-AFT, Vermont Public Radio, Mike Rose]

May 7, 2014