Bates workers organize | IATSE authorizes strike & more

IN THIS EDITION:

  • Bates College Educators and Staff Launch Union Organizing Drive
  • TV & Film Workers (IATSE) Vote Nearly Unanimously to Authorize Strike
  • “I've seen too many people lose this fight to stay silent” Union members speak up on getting vaccinated
  • Bangor Federation of Public Employees (AFT 6071) Ratify New Contract
  • Machinists District 4 Launch “Respect on the Job" Campaign
  • Hiring Announcement: Maine Labor Climate Council Director
  • Maine Labor History: Remembering the Saco Firemen’s Strike of 1862

Bates College Educators & Staff Launch Union Organizing Drive

Earlier this week, Bates adjunct faculty and non-managerial staff announced they are seeking to form a union, the Bates Educators and Staff Organization (BESO), with the Maine Service Employees Association (MSEA-SEIU Local 1989). Workers are building a “wall-to-wall” union meaning anyone who receives a paycheck from Bates College — and is not management, tenured or tenure-track faculty, or a campus safety officer — is eligible to join.  

“Over the past year, too many of our coworkers have left due to dissatisfaction, low pay, and poor working conditions at the College,” BESO members said in a statement. “Losing so much talent and expertise has added more work for those of us who remain, diminishing our capacity to provide quality learning and living conditions for our students. By forming our union, we establish a means to improve these conditions and therefore protect the Bates we all know and love.” 

Unfortunately, the administration of the college has already begun its anti-union campaign, so Bates workers need to know their community is behind them. 

“Alarmingly, some of our co-workers have already reported facing pushback from the administration: increased workplace surveillance and an atmosphere of fear, particularly in departments where we are most under compensated and vulnerable,” BESO stated. 

Here are ways you can support the Bates workers:

1. Sign this petition to ask Bates President Clayton Spencer and the Trustees of Bates College to not interfere with faculty and staff who are forming their union.

2. Join the "Friends of Bates Educators and Staff" Facebook group and invite your friends and co-workers to join as well.

3. Follow "Friends of Bates Educators and Staff" on Instagram and Twitter.

Meanwhile, Bates students, faculty and alumnae have stood up and announced they have the workers' backs. Students have placed over 1500 signs to support adjuncts and staff, announcing “Educators & Staff: Students Support Your Union!” across academic and residential buildings. Faculty members announced their support at their October meeting and called on the Bates president and trustees to remain neutral and refrain from intervening in the union organizing effort. 

In addition, Congressman Jared Golden, Senate President Troy Jackson, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, House leaders Dunphy & Talbot-Ross & Senate leaders Vitelli and Daughtry and more than 70 members of the Legislature have also signed letters in strong support for the workers. 

In a letter to members of the Bates Educators and Staff Organization, Congressman Golden wrote that "as a Bates College graduate and resident of Lewiston" he had seen up close the “skill, dedication and professionalism” of the Bates educators and staff.

“For that reason, and because I strongly support the right of all workers to organize and bargain collectively, I want you to know that I strongly support your efforts," he wrote. "Critically, I believe that any decision you make around organizing should be free of interference, misinformation, harassment or intimidation. Union-busting tactics are antithetical to respecting workers’ rights and should not be accepted. I urge Bates administration officials to refrain from efforts to intervene or influence the outcome of this process.”

Olivia Orr, who works as a web designer at Bates, told the Maine Beacon that she is optimistic that the level of support the workers have already received will help yield a successful union vote. 

“I do think that there’s an energy in the air right now. There’s been a lot of union organizing over the past year, nationwide and in Maine,” she said. “You know, it’s a pandemic and we’re talking about racism, we’re talking about wages and labor, and we’re talking about prioritizing our physical and mental health. It feels like those things are all colliding in this perfect storm at this moment.”

TV & Film Workers (IATSE) Vote Nearly Unanimously to Authorize Strike

60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) from 36 locals across the country voted nearly unanimously (98 percent) on Monday to authorize an industry-wide strike as workers push for more humane working conditions with major studios. The union represents cinematographers, lighting technicians, set builders, grips, editors, costumers and writers assistants, among others. It’s the first time in IATSE’s 128-year history that members of the union have authorized a nationwide strike.

After months of negotiating, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major film and television production companies, announced that it does not intend to make any counteroffer to the IATSE’s most recent proposal. Union leaders say that throughout the bargaining process, the AMPTP has failed to work with them on addressing the most grievous problems in their workplaces, including:

  • Excessively unsafe and harmful working hours
  • Unlivable wages for the lowest paid crafts
  • Consistent failure to provide reasonable rest during meal breaks, between workdays, and on weekends
  • Workers on certain “new media” streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters

The New England Studio Mechanics (IATSE 481) — which represents 1,100 technicians, artisans, and craftspeople in the motion picture industry in New England, including members in Maine — was among the locals that voted to authorize a strike. IATSE 481 President Wayne Simpson said the primary sticking points for his members are the constant long hours, too short "turnaround" between shifts causing lack of sleep and safety issues, and producers trying to do away with meal breaks. Food is made available on set, but workers are only allowed to eat while they work continuously through the day.

“If you’re on a camera crew or sound crew, you basically never get a break. You might be able to grab a slice of pizza and shove it in your mouth between takes, but this is not the way a real industry should be working,” said Simpson. “It’s really a cultural change that we’re after. There has always been this macho, cowboy-like frame of mind in the film business where the attitude is, 'if you can’t work 16-hour days and get five hours of sleep at night, and deal with not seeing your families and raising your kids because you’re never home, then tough it out or else leave.’ This isn’t reasonable for a mature industry.”

Simpson said that in past two contracts, the union gave up concessions because the production companies were unsure whether online streaming of films and TV shows would be profitable. However, since then streaming has become the most popular way for audiences to watch shows. 

“There’s no question that the production companies are now making money hand over fist,” he said.

“I've seen too many people lose this fight to stay silent” 

Urging Fellow Union Members to Get the COVID Vaccine

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives of working people across Maine, union members are imploring their co-workers to get the vaccine. Mike Higgins, a United Steelworkers labor representative and former Huhtamaki worker (USW 449), says that five USW members in Maine have so far died from COVID, including a former coworker of his, and he hopes more members will get vaccinated. Most recently, one of his close friends came down with the virus and ended up having to be life flighted to a hospital where he is fighting for his life.

“I just need all my friends to know that this is real. I have seen too many people lose this fight to keep staying silent,” said Higgins. “Too many people say things like, ‘COVID isn’t real’, ‘he/she died WITH COVID, not because of COVID’, ‘it’s no worse than the flu’, ’99% recover’, or that the only people who die have 'underlying health conditions.’ Well, my former coworker had asthma, but I know he would still be here if he hadn’t gotten COVID.”

Higgins said that paper mills have had to make serious adjustments when there have been outbreaks that affected whole shifts or departments. Fortunately, no mills have had to shut operations down due to COVID, but he said if there were an outbreak in one of the more specialized departments like the digester areas, it could cause the whole plant to shut down.

Higgins says he understands that some people might fear getting the vaccine, which has been proven to be safe and effective, but for some it’s just stubbornness. 

“What I don’t understand are the people who refuse to get vaccinated because they simply don’t want to be told what to do. That’s reckless in my mind.” said Higgins. “Some people argue that it’s not 100 percent effective at preventing infection  or transmitting the coronavirus, but we do know that the vaccine is extremely effective in preventing serious illness and death.”  

Bangor Maintenance Technicians(AFT 6071) Receive Raises in New Contract 

The Bangor Federation of Public Employees (AFT 6071) have just ratified a new contract that includes raises, cost of living increases and allowances for safety gear. The union represents Bangor’s crew of maintenance technicians who fix and maintain the city’s fleet of buses, police cars, fire trucks, public buses and school buses.

“Overall, we feel that this was an improvement over the initial proposals made by the City,” said Serina DeWolfe, labor rep for AFT 6071. “Initially the City only wanted to give the members a 1 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) raise for each year of the collective bargaining agreement. We ended up with a 2 percent COLA for each year PLUS a 2.5 percent wage step raise for each year of the contract. The members are happy with the increase in not only the wages but the safety eyewear increase and the increased accrued comp time.”

Under the new two-year contract the workers will receive:

  • A 2 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) raise for each year of the collective bargaining agreement.
  • A 2.5 percent wage step increase for each year of the contract.
  • An increased safety boot allowance of $300.00 per year.
  • An increased safety eyewear allowance to include progressive lenses and other advanced lenses.
  • An increased accrued comp hours to 70 hours for the first year and 80 hours for the second year of the contract

“You don’t have to change jobs. You can change your job.” — Machinists District 4 Launch “Respect on the Job" Campaign

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 4 has just launched its “Respect on the Job” campaign to educate Mainers about how being part of a union gives workers the power to negotiate better pay, better working conditions and dignity in the workplace. The union has launched a TV campaign in Southern Maine and is tabling all this week at the Fryeburg to educate workers about their rights at work and let them know they have the option to form a union.

“First and foremost, we believe that all workers deserve respect on the job and we want people to understand that the Machinists Union represents more than Machinists,” said Jay Wadleigh of Machinists District 4. “We believe that there are a lot of people changing jobs right now and it’s because they feel like they’re not being respected at work and they don’t have a voice on the job. We’re saying, ‘you don’t have to change jobs, you can change your job.’"

Wadleigh said that while the Machinists are most known in Maine for representing shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works, the union also represents municipal employees, office personnel, lobster men and women, hotel workers, transit drivers, papermakers, paralegals, health care workers, flight pilot simulators and more. For more information about IAM District Lodge organizing call (207) 407-1222. 

Hiring Announcement: Maine Labor Climate Council Director

The Maine Labor Climate Council (MLCC) — a new coalition of labor unions working to combat climate change, reverse economic inequality and create good union jobs — is seeking a dynamic and passionate director to coordinate our work to jointly tackle inequality and climate change. The Director will work to build out and formalize this labor-led coalition, develop and implement campaigns, oversee staff and fundraising, support efforts to organize key sectors of the renewable energy economy and more.  Please click here for more information and to apply!

Maine Labor History: The First Public Employee Strike

Remembering the Saco Firemen’s Strike of 1862

When massive textile mills were built in Saco and Biddeford in 1830s and 1840s, the populations of the twin cities grew rapidly. However with the growth of these new urban centers, came devastating fires and the public demanded an appropriate fire protection system. Unfortunately, these new jobs didn’t just come with the kind of wages, benefits and protections firefighters enjoy today. Firefighters had to fight for the respect and dignity they deserved.

The fascinating piece below about the 1862 Saco firemen’s strike — the first “public employee strike” in Maine — comes from the late labor historian Charlie Scontras. Charlie's descriptions of 19th century fire departments is reminiscent of this legendary scene from Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” which was set in the same year as the Saco strike.

On March, 21st, 1862 the Saco firemen issued an ultimatum that unless they received an increase in pay at the next town meeting on May 1st, they would walk away from their jobs and turn over the town's engines, ladder truck and other apparatus to the fire wardens. They said the advance warning insured that the town would not be “at the mercy of a gang of hoodlums or firebugs.” The strike that followed was described by the local press as “the irrepressible conflict between the firemen and the citizens.”

The firemen publicized their cause in the local press and in the Firemen's Advocate of Boston. Technically, the firemen were volunteers and not public servants, but in practical terms the line was rather blurry as far as citizens were concerned and the community was divided over the strike. Some supported the strikers while others viewed the strike as a “holdup.” The town meeting ultimately failed to yield to the demands of the firemen and chose to “call” their “bluff.” The residents recommended further discussions and, if necessary, organize a new fire department. The fire wardens, who were public employees, worked with the private and voluntary companies sought to settle the strike, failed to find a solution.

The striking firemen organized a new firemen’s department, “the Ex-Fire Association of Saco.” Added to the mosaic of labor conflict, two new fire departments were also organized which notified the town of their birth and that they were ready for duty. Thus ended the “famous” strike of the Saco firemen. Needless to say, bitterness between the old and new fire departments lingered. 

“It would appear that these fires were set with the design of calling out the newly organized fire departments….,” wrote The Maine Democrat. 

A local citizen remarked that the new firemen were greeted “with hootings and abusive language” as they responded to fire alarms. Others noted that “insulting yells” and the “abusive and vulgar epithets” by the strikers appeared to have alienated some citizens who may have had some sympathy for the strikers. 

Historically, the cities of early 19th century America not only faced serious problems from fires, but from the firemen themselves: “The firemen brought to their task exuberant high spirits and a fierce ambition to outdo their rival. Unfortunately the volunteers frequently paused from their heroic labors to fortify themselves with whiskey, to pocket valuables salvaged from the burning buildings, or to fight with rival companies for possession of the hydrants.”