Viewpoint: If the AFL-CIO Gets away with a Vermont Purge, It Won’t Stop Here

Two women in dark t-shirts stand side by side, one reading from a thick booklet

Katie Maurice (left) and Ellen Kaye took the oath of office after their election in 2023, becoming part of the first all-female executive committee of the Vermont State Labor Council. Photo: Vermont State Labor Council.

Vermonters have a special relationship with direct participatory democracy. The first Tuesday of every March, in towns big and small, citizens gather in person to do the business of their community the old-fashioned way—face to face, one person, one vote. Everyone can have the floor to speak their opinion, from an elected officer to the worker who hauls the garbage. Everyone has the same rights.

This type of governance is something that we in the Green Mountain State take seriously and hold dear to our hearts. And it is one of the founding principles of the United! slate of the Vermont State Labor Council.

First elected in 2019 and re-elected with new leadership in 2023, United has shifted the VSLC’s focus from top-down to bottom-up organizing. Instead of paying lobbyists to interface with our legislators, we let the workers speak for themselves.

Through programs such as Workers’ Circles, which are peer mentoring groups for organizing, dedicated volunteers from the rank and file have created new networks that can be mobilized to push forward programs and legislation that help the working class.

And this year, with our labor allies, we passed into law the Vermont PRO Act, which removes barriers to organizing such as mandatory captive audience meetings and makes it easier for workers to organize a union.

So it seems cruelly ironic that, after all this success—and in Vermont, of all places—the national AFL-CIO has nullified the results of the labor council’s 2023 convention, and ordered a completely new election with different rules.


For background, the 2023 VSLC election for president and vice president, in which delegates re-elected the United slate with 53 percent of the vote, was appealed by the losing presidential candidate. The VSLC, after conducting an impartial investigation and hearing, found the issues cited in the protest did not affect the outcome of the election.

The VSLC’s finding was appealed to the national AFL-CIO, which decided to toss out the results, despite failing to produce evidence of anything that affected the outcome. On May 7, President Liz Shuler ordered a re-run election which would use adjusted delegate and voting strengths, be conducted online during work days, and be in apparent conflict with the elections provisions of our VSLC constitution.

United decided to appeal this decision. When reviewing all of the data, we discovered a clear pattern of behavior from the national federation that was improper, argumentative, and unprofessional, and that interfered with the activities, operations, and governance of the VSLC.

During the course of many late nights after work, our caucus members assembled the appeal. And we organized, notifying the workers who had supported the United candidates that we were fighting back. It was with pride that we filed our appeal with a large number of rank-and-file sign-ons and pledges to stand with us in solidarity.



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After we filed our appeal and garnered local and national support, on June 13 the national AFL-CIO responded by staying the re-run election, giving us the chance to present our case to an Appeals Committee.


Regardless of the eventual outcome, it’s important that all democratic unionists understand the national implications of these actions—and also the possibilities.

In April, VSLC’s United participated with other reform labor councils at the 2024 Labor Notes Conference on the “Reviving Your Labor Council” panel, which spotlighted efforts to bring a bottom-up organizing energy and strategy to AFL-CIO central labor councils and state federations.

But it’s a worrying sign that in our case, the national AFL-CIO has responded to a progressive caucus by trying to force new elections to purge the United leadership.

Unless we organize to fight back, what is happening in Vermont could create the playbook for a broader purge of reformers in other labor councils by top-down unions trying to turn back the clock.

At the Labor Notes panel, 55 union activists dreamed together of what our labor councils could achieve in our states with the freedom and autonomy to build a bottom-up labor movement. Let’s stand together and make those possibilities real.

If we all pull together, perhaps we can, as our Vermont farmers say, nip this in the bud.

To join us in solidarity, please go to to send a message to President Shuler and the rest of the AFL-CIO Board.

Jeremy Rathbun is the United! Caucus Chair; Katie Maurice is Vermont State Labor Council president; Ellen Kaye is Vermont State Labor Council executive vice-president.

Viewpoints reflect the opinion of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Labor Notes. We welcome responses at editors[at]labornotes[dot]org.