In a first, Vermont AFL-CIO elects three women to top leadership posts

Two women standing in front of a microphone.
Katie Harris, left, of AFSCME 1674 and Ellen Kaye of UVM Staff United. Photo courtesy of Vermont State Labor Council

Union delegates chose three women to lead the Vermont State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in the state, at a convention last weekend at Jay Peak Resort. 

The umbrella organization, which represents 20,000 members, on Saturday elected Katie Harris president, Ellen Kaye executive vice president and Danielle Bombardier secretary-treasurer. 

“We’ve made some history here in Vermont by electing a three-woman leadership team,” said Kaye, co-president of UVM Staff United, which represents clerical, technical and professional staff at the University of Vermont. 

“I believe that it starts to crack open the door or hopefully bust open the door to much greater diversity in the labor movement, much greater representation in leadership of that diversity,” Kaye said. “We acknowledge that the labor movement has had a historical legacy of exclusion around racial issues, around gender issues.”

Harris and Kaye ran as members of the progressive United! slate, which campaigned on a platform of prioritizing organizing over Statehouse advocacy. 

“We see this victory as a affirmation of our desire to continue to focus on rank-and-file organizing within the state of Vermont over political lobbying,” said Harris, a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

David Van Deusen, who has served as president of the labor council for the past four years, did not seek reelection. Harris defeated Larry Moquin, of Laborers’ International Union of North America, for the top post. 

Kaye defeated Aimee Towne, president of the Vermont State Employees’ Association, for the vice presidency. Bombardier, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, ran unopposed for reelection as secretary-treasurer. 

According to Kaye, 125 delegates voted at the convention. 

“It was a record-breaking attendance this time around, which goes to show how much folks are invested in the labor movement as of late,” Harris said.

The leadership vote came on the heels of the VSEA’s decision last month to join the AFL-CIO, partly to protect itself from a takeover by a national union. 

“There’s a period of time when these big, national, out-of-state unions with their millions of dollars can come in and do what’s called a raid, where they try to take over your union,” said Steve Howard, executive director of the VSEA. 

Howard said this happened in recent years when the National Police Benevolent Association and the New England Police Benevolent Association, based in Boston, sought to represent Department of Corrections staff historically associated with the VSEA. Corrections staff voted in October 2021 to stick with the VSEA. 

Howard explained that the AFL-CIO charter prohibits a member union from raiding another member union.

He said another reason the union joined the AFL-CIO was to help pass card-check legislation, which would allow Vermont employees to join a union once a majority of them have signed a card asking to join. No vote would be required. 

“AFL just needs the VSEA’s power and influence to get that done,” said Howard. “They’ve been trying for a number of years.”

Finally, he said, VSEA’s 6,000 members now have access to AFL-CIO discounts on mortgages and auto insurance.

Five VSEA members were elected as vice presidents of the AFL-CIO in Saturday’s elections. 

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