A Message From VSEA President Aimee Bertrand

October 3, 2023

I am writing today to share my thoughts on VSEA’s Board of Trustees’ vote to join the National AFL-CIO, a coalition of unions that come together to increase the power of workers. My goal is to share with you the rationale for this decision.

Protecting VSEA’s Independence

VSEA is a proud, 79-year independent union, which is very rare in the labor movement.

Independent unions are becoming rarer because they are often “raided” in what is like a hostile takeover by big, out-of-state national unions. These other unions have the ability to spend money and deploy resources, like organizers, to try to gain enough favor among union members to force an election to leave the existing union and in turn, join a different one. These large national unions often tell members what they want to hear and/or share misinformation using their huge war chests. 

What the larger unions really want to do is grab your dues and take the decision-making out-of-state. Some of the larger unions don’t even have union reps or staff in Vermont! Instead, they send members to a national call center when they need help.

Out-of-state national unions generally have much higher dues than VSEA and they require that a big percentage of those funds is sent out-of-state.

As an independent and member-run union, direction, and decisions for VSEA are made democratically, by our members, here in Vermont. Our members’ dues money stays in state, and we’re proud of our talented pool of professional labor organizers and field representatives.

VSEA leadership became aware, over a year ago, that at least one of these big national unions was taking actions to take over your union and take your power to their national out-of-state headquarters. Many of you have reported receiving polling calls and invitations from this other union to join meetings and caucuses to discuss ways to disband the VSEA.

Joining the AFL-CIO protects VSEA’s independent status from this “hostile takeover,” because AFL-CIO members have a no-raid clause in place, with each participating union agreeing to stay focused on the needs of workers rather than attacking each other.

Due to what the Board believed to be an imminent attempt at a takeover by this other national out-of-state union, the Board acted urgently in the interest of VSEA’s independence and was able to prevent a costly and ugly fight and preserving VSEA’s complete independence. 

As one of a handful of Direct Local Affiliates of the AFL-CIO, VSEA doesn’t answer to anybody outside of our organization. The AFL-CIO has no control over our local affairs and has no power to interfere in the decisions that we make here in Vermont. So, by participating in the AFL-CIO, VSEA gets the benefits and protections of this large and powerful labor coalition without sacrificing our complete independence.

Increasing Access To Discounts And Benefits For VSEA Members

Helping members save money on goods and services they rely on every day is important.  The AFL-CIO offers a vast program to its members beyond what is currently offered by VSEA, through their UNION PLUS program. Programs like discounted mortgage rates, heavily discounted college tuition to online programs for yourself and dependents, discounted personal loan rates or credit cards are just a few of the items we are hoping to finalize details to potentially offer our members!

Maximizing VSEA’s Power And Saving Money

VSEA will now have the purchasing power of a massive coalition of unions that will likely save VSEA money on goods and services that we currently pay for at a much higher rate while also greatly expanding the access new power-building resources that we could never afford on our own.  These resources will help VSEA fight off attacks and take bold actions to increase your power as an employee and a member of the VSEA.

I understand that because many of these discussions were strategic and discussed in Executive session, our inability to communicate this strategy to protect your union widely with members was not ideal. The Board of Trustees never wants its decisions to come as a surprise to members. But I hope you understand now why the members of the Board of Trustees had to take quick action and that it had to be kept confidential in order not to tip off those entities that were plotting to hurt our powerful and independent Vermont-based union.  

I also hope you can also understand, even though the investment in the AFL-CIO is significant, the benefits of that investment are numerous and beneficial to the members of our union and families. Thank you for re-electing me as your President for another term. I remain committed to building the strongest, most inclusive VSEA possible while protecting our identity as an independent union.

Always In Solidarity,
Aimee Bertrand
VSEA President