Unions Spar Over Vermont AFL-CIO's Pro-2A Stance

(AP Photo/Marina Riker, File)

A Vermont labor union’s declaration in support of the Second Amendment has prompted a backlash among members of an affiliated union that represents health care workers and teachers, who say the the resolution should be withdrawn because it could lead to violence.

Earlier this week the Vermont chapter of the AFL-CIO approved the resolution that backs the right to keep and bear arms from a position on the Left; declaring that democracy in the United States has never been in a more perilous position, and with the forces of “fascists organizations, white supremacists, and individual extremists” on the rise that “Unions, working people, and communities are wise to retain and/or build the means to defend themselves.”

That’s not going over well with Vermont’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. The union’s executive board calls the resolution “irresponsible,” and as the website VT Digger reports, the two unions are now engaged in a war of words over the right to keep and bear arms.

AFT Vermont President Deb Snell said that, while she doesn’t have a problem with responsible gun ownership, she is concerned that the state AFL-CIO’s officially backing gun ownership would translate into violence.

“It’s like people are looking for trouble,” she said. “I’m reminded of the laws in the South, the ‘stand your ground’ laws, and how many unnecessary deaths have happened because of that.”

Guess what, Deb? While Vermont doesn’t officially have a Stand Your Ground law, the state Supreme Court has ruled that individuals don’t need to retreat before defending themselves if they are attacked in public. And just like many of those icky states in the South, Vermont is also a Constitutional Carry state. If you can legally own your handgun, you can lawfully carry it without the need for a state-issued permission slip.

Members of the Vermont AFT comprise about 6,000 of the state AFL-CIO’s 11,000 members, so the real issue here may not be a split between the AFT and the AFL-CIO, but a divide amongst AFT members themselves.

Two AFT representatives on the AFL-CIO executive board emphasized that the resolution was adopted through a vote following a debate.

“Not everybody agreed with the resolution,” said Helen Scott, an AFL-CIO vice president for AFT. “But I think that’s crucial to union democracy, that we’re able to debate controversial issues.”

David Feurzeig, also a board vice president for AFT, said he personally didn’t support the resolution but was proud of the process that led to it. He said he believes it is important for labor groups to take a stand on such social issues.

He said the resolution’s original version included a line stating that the Vermont AFL-CIO “opposes any new gun control measures” in the state. But that was apparently removed following the debate, with the final version directing union leaders to “defend” the group’s collective right to own firearms.

Yeah, I found the line about defending the “collective right to own firearms” to be a bit odd, considering the Supreme Court declared in the Heller case that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. Even Vermont’s Supreme Court has declared that the state Constitution protects an individual right, albeit one that is subject to “reasonable regulation.”

Still, unions are all about the power of the group, and not the individual, so I suppose it makes some ideological sense for the Vermont AFL-CIO affiliate to frame the Second Amendment rights of its members as collective ones. And while some 2A activists may disagree with that description, the intra-union debate isn’t over how to describe the rights but whether or not they should be supported at all.

Vermont AFL-CIO’s president, David Van Deusen, said the group won’t withdraw its gun rights resolution. Any political position that its members take at a convention, he said, can be altered only at another convention. The next one will take place in 2022.

“The Vermont AFL-CIO does not apologize for our deep commitment to defending democracy, nor for the fact that we practice actual democracy,” Van Deusen said in a written statement to VTDigger.

In other words, if the AFT’s leadership doesn’t like the outcome of the vote, it should send more anti-gun delegates to next year’s convention. Until then, however, the state affiliate of the AFL-CIO is going to back the rights of its members to own firearms “in the event of attacks by fascists, white supremacists, and individual extremists.”

As someone who sees fascism and communism as the two sides of the same totalitarian coin, I have my own disagreements with the language of the AFL-CIO’s resolution, but I also know that, just like the First Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms is a right of all the people, and not only the ones who share my political philosophy.