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Head Of Major Vermont Labor Group Wants To Chart A New Course

David Van Deusen
Henry Epp
David Van Deusen is the new president of the Vermont AFL-CIO. He and other newly elected leaders plan to shake up the organization's approach to politics and lobbying.

In September, the Vermont AFL-CIO elected a new slate of leaders who are promising to take the coalition of labor unions in a more left-leaning direction. Among those new leaders is David Van Deusen, the organization’s new president.

The group, also known as the Vermont State Labor Council, represents around 10,000 members, and it's long been a reliable endorser of Democratic and Progressive candidates in the state. Beyond his work with unions, Van Deusen has written for Anarchist and Socialist publications over the years.

Vermont AFL-CIO President David Van Deusen spoke to VPR’s All Things Considered host Henry Epp. Listen to their conversation above.

Near the top of the platform the Vermont AFl-CIO adopted this fall, its leadership says unions in the United States have stagnated in recent years, and that labor must “experiment” and “be bold.”

"We have endorsed dozens and dozens and dozens of candidates for state house every two years," Van Deusen said. "Those candidates tend to win, and yet we have a very hard time moving a pro-labor agenda forward in Montpelier."

"I think that we need to take a hard look at the ski industry. That is almost exclusively non-union, and that's a huge part of our economy." - Vermont AFL-CIO President David Van Deusen

Van Deusen said his leadership group plans to shift the AFL-CIO’s resources away from lobbying at the Statehouse and towards union organizing in agencies and companies around the state. As far as where unions could spread in Vermont, Van Deusen sees one industry as a ripe target.

"I think that we need to take a hard look at the ski industry," Van Deusen said. "That is almost exclusively non-union, and that's a huge part of our economy."

Van Deusen said he also hopes to see expanded union membership at construction sites and among town employees.

As for his past affiliations with anarchist and socialist groups, Van Deusen said that has no bearing on his current role in the AFL-CIO, but he stands by his activist history.

"I'm certainly not going to get in the business of disavowing my younger self. That would be a silly fool's errand, and I'm not about to engage that today,” said Van Deusen. “I'm proud of my 20-plus year history of fighting for working class power and fighting for a better, more democratic world, here in Vermont and beyond."

Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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