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We salute AFSCME members’ selfless dedication to help Vermont recover from flooding

Flooding caused enormous damage at the Rabble Rouser Chocolate & Craft Co., where workers formed a union through AFSCME Local 1369. Photo: Kylie Cooper / Stringer
We salute AFSCME members’ selfless dedication to help Vermont recover from flooding
By Tim Cauley ·
Tags: Our Stories
We salute AFSCME members’ selfless dedication to help Vermont recover from flooding
Photo: Vermont AFL-CIO

Vermont residents are once again cleaning up after experiencing massive flooding and destruction.

River flooding that began with heavy rain in early July devastated entire communities. Roads were gone, cities and towns were flooded, and many residents were cut off from the outside world. The state is re-issuing a special “Vermont Strong” license plate to raise funds for recovery efforts. There are still serious dangers regarding the integrity of dams, and residents may soon have to grapple with dwindling supplies of basics like food and fuel.

Many of those leading the response and recovery efforts are members of AFSCME locals in Vermont that are part of Council 93. They’re working around the clock to restore basic life-sustaining services, save lives, keep the power on and rebuild roads.

AFSCME public works professionals from Locals 490, 1201, 1343, 1369, 2413 and 3797 are working closely with emergency first responders and other public service workers to help Vermont recover, according to Council 93.

“This is one of those moments where we all truly value the expertise, dedication and bravery of the men and women who serve in public works,” said Council 93 Executive Director Mark Bernard. “As tens of thousands of Vermont residents head for higher ground and emergency shelters, these workers are placing their lives on the line. They are monitoring dams and bridges on the edge of breaking, closing roads, detouring traffic, and clearing debris from open roadways to provide safe passage for evacuating residents and EMS personnel.”

Vermont AFL-CIO President and AFSCME Staff Representative David Van Deusen applauded their efforts in a Facebook post, stating, “In Barre City I observed firsthand the destruction of the floods. But destruction was not all I saw. AFSCME Local 1369 members from the Department of Public Works were out in force (with additional aid from Burlington DPW AFSCME Local 1343 and St. Johnsbury/Newport DPW AFSCME Local 2413). These heroes were rapidly clearing roads and stabilizing public utilities. Their dedication is inspiring. “

Members of Local 1369, including Steward Jake Drown, slept at their worksites for weeks after the flooding began to guard against any possible dam failure and to make sure the public continues to have drinkable water.

Another member who works at the Barre Streets Department, Donnell Dexter, put his own safety at risk to save a man with a broken back. Dexter helped him evacuate by lifting him from his submerged house into a loader. When the equipment failed, Dexter swam to recover a boat that he then used to complete the rescue. 

Donnell, a 31-year AFSCME member, said he’s never experienced anything like this month’s flooding, adding that there’s maybe 10 times more water than what he saw during Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Donnell said he and his fellow members have been dedicating every spare moment to recovery efforts. That includes helping their own families recover from flood damage. For Donnell, that means helping his daughter, whose flower shop in Barre had its walls torn by the floods.

Among the local businesses devastated by the flooding is Rabble-Rouser Chocolate & Craft Co., in Montpelier, whose workers recently formed a union through Local 1369. With their basement being flooded, and much of their furniture and chocolate-producing equipment being destroyed, it will take a lot of money to recover. They are seeking the public’s help.

Council 93’s Bernard said AFSCME members in Vermont are putting their communities’ needs above their own to help the state recover.

“There is no doubt they would prefer to be taking care of their own families and property, but they don’t have that luxury,” Bernard said. “They have a job to do, and they won’t return home until that job is done. We salute them and every single public-sector worker who is working to carry Vermont through this unprecedented crisis.”

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