Legislative Breakfast - Making a Living in Vermont

NEWPORT CITY – Hundreds of Vermonters plan to converge on the steps of the State House, Tuesday, May 1, for Worker’s Rights Day.Diane Peel, a member of the Northeast Kingdom 99 Percent, said there is minimum wage and there is livable wage. During Monday’s Legislative Breakfast, held at the Eastside Restaurant, Peel said, “For a single person with no children, the livable wage in a rural area is $16.41, the livable wage in an urban area is $17.08. The average is $16.75.”However, the median wage in most areas of employment doesn’t meet the livable wage amount, said Peel. She said people on government assistance are not lazy. They are working individuals who are not earning enough money to meet their basic needs._____Illuzzi: Many businesses are struggling and can’t meet or pay the livable wage standard._____“When you cut services, you cut services to working Vermonters and you’re forcing them further into poverty,” said Peel. Sen. Vince Illuzzi of Derby said his committee had economist Doug Hoffer of Burlington do a livable wage study. The study is a guidepost for employers so they can measure what they pay against what it takes to meet basic living needs in the state. Some businesses rely on that guide, attempt and often pay their employees that basic needed salary, if not more. Green Mountain Coffee is an example of a business that relies on the study. Illuzzi said many businesses are struggling and can’t meet or pay the livable wage standard.“It’s a shame in our state that you are better off to be on social programs than to work for a living,” said Rep. Bob Lewis of Derby. “The biggest reason is because you get much better benefits on social programs than you do working.”Lewis said he helped a lot of local people get jobs only to have them quit a few weeks after they start. “You have to be better off to work for a living than you are on social programs,” he said. “Social programs mean we as taxpayers are footing the bill.”There are jobs in this area, said Lewis. “One of the big issues in Montpelier right now is the Mexicans are coming into our state, taking jobs,” said Lewis. Lawmakers are hearing complaints Mexicans are taking jobs away from Vermonters. However, Lewis sees it a different way. “They’re taking jobs that Vermonters won’t do.”There needs to be training for the unemployed, said Donna Higgons, from Vermont’s North Country Chamber of Commerce. She said Community College of Vermont and the North Country Career Center are joining forces to train individuals. In 2007, Illuzzi’s committee wrote the senate version of the Next Generation Bill, which set up a number of workforce training opportunities in the state. Former Governor James Douglas initially set up the bill as a way to infuse money into higher education, Illuzzi said. The testimony showed that some people saw college as the end all in seeking a job but, as Illuzzi said, there are programs like the Work Force Training Fund and Duel Enrollment. There is funding available for individuals who wish to participate in training programs.Those who participate in training programs need to stick with it, said Lewis. It's not necessary to go college to have a great future, he said.Frank Davis of Derby questioned Lewis, a retired game warden, about a proposed bill entitled “Use of Force in Defense in a Dwelling Place.”Lewis said Davis was referring to the Castle Doctrine and that Vermont has a flight, not fight policy. “You’re not allowed to stand your ground,” said Lewis. “You must turn and run. You must take every exit available. You have no right to protect your property. You must take the exit and run.” The law obviously has Lewis seeing red. “American citizens don’t run from anything,” he said. “When you make a choice, which is done throughout the state of Vermont, and elect to use deadly physical force against a human being, right, wrong or indifferent, you will end up in our (court) system.”Jeannine Young of Craftsbury questioned why migrant farm workers might get state identification cads when ones here legally are suppose to have federal identification. She also asked why the Department of Agricultural isn’t training unemployed Vermonters to be farm workers. That way the state doesn’t need illegal aliens doing work that Vermonters grew up doing.“I started out on a farm,” she said. “I was lugging sawdust maybe at five years old.”The initial idea, said Illuzzi, was to provide a non-driver state issued identification card to farm workers. The testimony from the Vermont Farm Bureau was that Vermont farmers can’t continue operations without work provided by immigrants. Farmers do not and may not be allowed to ask citizenship questions as long as the person applying for the job provides a Social Security card. Illuzzi said farmers would say it’s difficult to find U.S. citizens willing to work the amount of hours that dairy farms need. Illuzzi also said that many of the workers are legal immigrants.After hearing testimony, the Senate Agricultural Committee voted to go beyond the state identification card and issue driver licenses, Illuzzi said. However, because of concerns raised by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the bill has been turned into a study, which will be finished next year.