All was quiet on the Cluttered Desk last week, as I took a few days off to enjoy the beautiful mountain air of the State of Vermont. I traveled there with my wife, honored to be the Luncheon Keynote speaker for the 100th Anniversary Workers’ Compensation Conference, produced by the Vermont Department of Labor and Associated Industries of Vermont. After the event, which was held in Montpelier, we headed off to the mountain resort of Stowe for a few days of R&R. If there was one impression I had about the state, it is that the people there are exceedingly friendly

Vermont is a french word that, loosely translated, means “Land of a million Subaru”. It is a small and sparsely populated state, with its citizenry totaling just 650,000. They are an independent lot, fiercely proud of their heritage and local culture – which seems to include Cabot cheese, maple syrup and 1.6 Subarus for every person in the state. All of the Subarus have “I am Vermont Strong” plates on the front, and “Go Bernie Go” bumper stickers on the rear bumper. They also, as a close knit state, seem to know each other. My first indication of that came on my first day there.

We stayed in White River Junction, which is on the border with New Hampshire. We visited an L.L. Bean in West Lebanon, NH, and while my wife was shopping I struck up a conversation with the sales clerk who had stopped to assist us. As it turns out she is from Woodstock, VT, and knew long time Vermont resident and workers’ comp columnist Peter Rousmaniere. Now, everybody in workers’ comp knows Rousmaniere, or at least knows who he is. But this woman wasn’t in comp. She was in flannel shirts and outerwear. It was an indication that connections within the state of Vermont ran deep, and that I best comport myself with that little fact in mind.

As it turns out, there was no need to watch my words, as my hosts, Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan, Workers’ Compensation Director Steve Monahan, Associated Industries Vice President Bill Driscoll and NWCDN attorney Keith Kasper were more than gracious.

The conference itself was a single day affair, and was geared to provide an historical look at workers’ comp in the state, as well as what people might expect to see there in the future as it relates to workers’ compensation. In many ways it was the same discussion being held in states all across the nation, as virtually all of them have recently passed or will soon pass that 100 year mark on this social experiment called comp. Vermont has seen the expansion of covered conditions such as occupational diseases and repetitive trauma just as other states have. They are struggling with the sharing economy and expanded use of independent contractors just like everybody else. Still, particularly from a legal perspective, this conference provided an excellent view of how workers’ comp has evolved in it’s first 100 years, and how it may continue to change in its second century of service. The state should be commended for marking this anniversary with a useful educational tool that helps put the history of the system in perspective for the people who toil within it today.

Director Monahan, when we were being introduced, shook my hand and thanked me for my blog. He then paused a moment, smiled, and said “Please be kind to us”. Apparently my reputation for snarky sarcasm had preceded me. Good news for him – there was nothing to be snarky about. The conference was a nice event, and the panelists knew their business. I was very pleased to be part of it.

As for Vermont itself, my wife and I have definitely put it on the list to visit again. I highly recommend it. From the State Capitol Building to the winding backroads with their covered bridges, the state has much to offer. All of that, however, pales to the sheer friendliness of the people, virtually everywhere we went. Vermont is not just a state, it is a community. A community that left me nothing to snark about.

Well, except for all those damn Subarus and their Bernie bumper stickers. But even there I found myself with a strange sense of commonality. As a strong fiscal conservative and lifelong Republican, I found myself oddly agreeing with the Bernie message, hoping he does indeed capture the Democrat party nomination for president. 

I suspect my motivation there is somewhat less sincere, however. 🙂

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