Solidarity with Montpelier Workers

- Keith Rosenthal

Montpelier, VT, Dec. 6 - The citywide union drive in Montpelier, VT is heating up and coming to a head. Workers in the downtown Montpelier area started organizing with the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) this past July and have already successfully organized in several workplaces.

Although risky, the drive to unionize the workers in the multitude of different workplaces downtown under one union has so far been surprisingly effective. Ranging from clerks at the M & M Bottle Redemption Center and the Savoy movie theater to servers at La Pizzeria, a broad cross-section of the Montpelier working class have come out in support of a city-wide union. But the management at some workplaces is fighting against the union tooth-and-nail. Like the owner of J. Morgan's Steakhouse, Fred Bashara. So far, UE has filed 20 unfair labor practices against Bashara's restaurant. Management has spied on and stalked pro-union workers, set up surveillance cameras in the kitchen, held illegal captive-audience meetings, and threatened workers in one-on-one meetings.

But most outrageously, pro-union workers at J. Morgan's risk being fired for holding their stance. Valerie Tofani was fired on November 22nd, after working at the restaurant for almost 6 years. Bashara said it was because she failed to call in after not showing up for work. But Tofani had left a message on his cell phone, and an anti-union co-worker who had committed the same alleged crime was not disciplined at all.

Tofani's real "sin" is that she is active in the union drive and is standing up for herself in the face of despicable intimidation.

On December 6th, despite blizzard-like conditions, close to 200 community members, downtown workers, and union supporters rallied in front of J. Morgan's in solidarity with pro-union workers and Tofani, chanting, "What's disgusting? Union busting! What's outrageous? Sweatshop wages!" When a manager stepped outside to heckle the crowd, people yelled, "Go back inside rat!" at which point the rat duly turned tail and ran back inside.

The workers at J. Morgan's and throughout Montpelier face a tough fight in the weeks and months to come, but spirits are high and the momentum is with them. Moreover, the workers know what victory will take. As Jesse Rosado, a line cook at J. Morgan's, put it, "We face a really tough road, but you'll never receive change unless you stand up for it-stand up for yourself and your co-workers. We all need to stand up in solidarity until we get what we need." Keith Rosenthal is an activist in Burlington, Vermont. He can be reached at

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