B&M plant to close / "Best contract in 30 years" / PPNNE workers picket & more

IN THIS EDITION:

  • B&M Baked Bean Plant to Shutter, Laying Off Nearly 80 Workers
  • Nurses Urge Maine Medical Center to Maintain COVID Protections
  • Support Planned Parenthood Workers Fighting for a Fair Contract
  • “Best Contract in 30 Years!” — Portland Firefighters Ratify New Contract
  • Aroostook County Workers Sign Postcards Supporting the PRO Act
  • CWA Members Organize for Quality Broadband with Strong Labor Standards
  • Maine Churches to Feature Labor Day Speakers

B&M Baked Beans Plant to Shutter, Laying Off Nearly 80 Workers

Our hearts are with the 77 members of Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International (BCTGM) Local 334 as they learned this week that the famous B&M Baked Beans plant in Portland will be closing this year. In a statement, B&G Foods, B&M’s parent company, announced that it will be shifting operations from Portland to the Midwest in order to “improve productivity and reduce overall costs.” The building is being sold to develop a technology graduate school, research center and business incubatorthat will be part of the Roux Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences.

BCTGM business agent John Jordan said the workers knew that the plant was eventually going to close as production had gradually waned over the past year.

“All the signs were there that it was coming to an end so a lot of the workers are relieved that they finally have a date.” said Jordan. “But the company has been very respectful of the workers and worked hand and hand with the union to negotiate a generous severance package. The workers were relieved that the rumor mill has stopped and they can prepare to make their transition more comfortably.”

In addition to the severance package, the company will be paying all of the workers through December 2nd to allow them to keep their benefits until the end of the year. Some of the workers may finish next month but will still be paid until December. The Maine Department of Labor’s Rapid Response team is assisting workers in transitioning to their next careers. Jordan said that B&G has openings at other plants elsewhere in the country and there are opportunities to work at BCTGM shops with the same pension in other states.

B&M was founded in 1867 as the Burnham & Morrill Company, specializing in canned meat, fish and vegetables. In 1913, it moved from its original location on Franklin Street to the current waterfront location at “One Bean Pot Circle.” Throughout the past few decades the company has transferred ownership a number times, first to PET Foods in the 1970s, then Pillsbury in the 1990s and finally B&G Foods in 1999. B&M is famous for its wide variety of baked beans cooked using a traditional open-pot baking process as well as its brown bread in a can.

A beloved Maine brand for 154 years and a well-known Portland landmark, many Mainers will greatly miss the factory’s annual Christmas tree and the familiar aroma of baked beans wafting over the city. The announcement follows the closure of other local factories in the past three decades, producing such iconic Maine brands as Humpty Dumpty potato chips, J.J. Nissen breads and Jordan’s hot dogs.

“We lost Jordan's for the hot dogs, Nissen for the bread, now B&M for the beans? You used to have a whole Saturday night supper in one section of Portland," News Center anchor Pat Callaghan remarked.

The loss of the plant is particularly tough for workers whose families have been working at B&M for generations.

“For them it’s a personal loss as it’s been a family tradition,” said Jordan. “We all hate to see it go.”

Nurses Urge Maine Medical Center to Maintain COVID Protections

In the midst of the current spike in Maine COVID cases and with the state at record-tying ICU capacity, at a press conference Wednesday the newly-organized nurses at Maine Medical Center demanded that their employer maintain all the nurse and patient protections that the hospital provided last year. 
Over the past several weeks, the hospital has informed employees that they will be losing these protections. At the same time, there have been six COVID outbreaks in various parts of the hospital. Nurses from critical care, float pool and the operating room spoke at yesterday's press event. They were joined by several additional nurses who came out of the facility on their breaks. 

“Just when we thought that we might be getting over the worst of COVID, the Delta variant hit, and now it feels like the end is no longer in sight,” said Madison Light, RN in the float pool. “Nurses and other caregivers are exhausted, frustrated, and stretched to their limits to provide the best care we can to those who come to us for help.”

This past Saturday, the Portland Press Herald reported that the current number of COVID patients in critical care tied with the January all-time high of 71 critical care COVID patients. Yet Maine Medical Center has announced it is rolling back the protections it gave to its employees last year, including:  

  • Allowing high-risk employees to work alternative assignments that do not involve direct Covid care.
  • Covering the cost of treatment for employees who get sick with COVID-19. Providing quarantine pay to employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 outside the hospital, to protect themselves and their co-workers. 
  • Giving paid time off to caregivers who are past 37 weeks of pregnancy. 

“If we start taking steps backwards, we will leave the door open to further harm, and to the depletion of our workforce and our ability to care for all the patients who come to us from many different parts of our state,” said Jonica Frank, RN in the operating room. “Our employer must continue all the protections it has made to frontline employees, especially those who become ill, those who are vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, and, of course, the pregnant nurses and other caregivers who are at advanced stages of their pregnancies.”

Support Planned Parenthood Workers Fighting for a Fair Contract

Staff at Planned Parenthood Northern New England in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are fighting for a fair contract and they need our support! PPNNE workers in Maine formed a union with MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 over a year ago and have been working for months to reach an agreement with management. 

“We have made it clear to our management team that we are here to create a more sustainable workplace thereby putting PPNNE in a stronger position to recruit and retain quality staff," the union wrote in a statement. "We know that is how we best provide the highest quality care that our community deserves.”

Priorities of the workers include:

●     Equity & inclusion in all facets of their work

●     Transparency & collaborative decision-making

●     Livable wages & benefits

●     Appropriate staffing levels that meet patient needs

According to PPNNE union members, the organization has had to cut clinic hours because they don’t have enough staff to cover all of their hours.

Please click here to sign on to let PPNNE management know you support the workers!

Portland Firefighters Ratify “Best Contract in 30 Years!”

After two years of tough negotiations, the Portland Professional Firefighters (IAFF 740) voted 137-11 to ratify a new three-year contract that includes pay raises and significant improvements to their pensions.

“I think this is clearly the best contract we’ve had in at least 30 years,” said Chris Thomson, President of IAFF Local 740. “For the last 20 years, in every contract we were giving rights up and in this contract we got a bunch of things back.”

The new contract includes:

  • Switching members’ pension plans to a state special plan (3C) that allows them to retire at 2/3rds of “their best 3 years average compensation” after 25 years of service. Previously, junior members have only received 50 percent. For the first time, dispatchers will also be added to the special plan, thanks to a 2019 lawfirefighters and dispatchers worked hard to pass, with the help of the Maine AFL-CIO.
  • An increase of 33 percent  in pension contributions for members, who are not in the state plan and instead are in a separate 401A retirement plan.
  • 3 percent cost of living increase for 2021, a 2 percent wage increase for senior members who had to absorb some of the cost of the pension change in 2022 and another 2 percent wage increase for all workers in 2023.
  • Increased death benefit from $2,500 to $15,000 and more.

The contract now goes to the Portland City Council where it is likely to be approved.

Aroostook County Workers Sign Postcards Supporting the PRO Act

Early Wednesday morning, shipbuilder Doug Hall headed up to job sites in Aroostook County  to meet union members and ask them to sign post cards calling on our Senators to pass the PRO Act — federal legislation that would strengthen the rights of workers to form unions and bargain for their fair share. Doug first stopped in New Limerick where building trades union members are working on a $150 million expansion of the New Limerick Louisiana Pacific Mill, which makes strand wood fiber boards and siding. 

He then set up a table outside the gates of the Madawaska Paper Mill to talk to workers about the PRO Act. Many postcards were signed and good conversations were had.

If you want us to give a presentation on the PRO Act at your worksite, let us know!

CWA Members Organize for Quality Broadband with Strong Labor Standards

Earlier this month, the US Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — historic legislation that includes $65 billion in funding to expand affordable, high-speed broadband internet to millions of Americans, including to rural Maine where it’s estimated that at least 83,000 households still can't access broadband.

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have been instrumental in ensuring that the funding not only results in affordable, reliable broadband for all Americans, but also creates good union jobs. As part of their Build Broadband Better campaign, CWA member activists from across the country have been engaged in educating the public and legislators about the importance of making sure that broadband infrastructure is built by skilled union workers and not low road contractors.

As a result of their hard work, the infrastructure bill — which creates a new state broadband grant fund to expand high-speed internet service — prioritizes contractors that have a demonstrated record of and plans to be in compliance with Federal labor and employment laws. It would also direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make rules to provide equal access to education, health care, work and business opportunities that increasingly require broadband internet connections.

“We’re fortunate to be able to get some pro-labor language in the broadband infrastructure package for the first time ever,” said Nick Hoh, a CWA District 1 Political Coordinator who also works as a broadband field technician and installer. “After the legislation passes through Congress, the next phase will be pivoting towards the states to make sure that once the money comes in, it filters down properly to underserved areas. We also want to put in safeguards to prevent companies from just taking the money and using it for older technology or just putting up a couple cell sites and calling it a day. We want to build out a good quality fiber optic network the right way with skilled union labor.”

Hoh and other CWA member leaders have also been going into communities on their own time and gathering examples of shoddy broadband installations performed by nonunion contractors as well as testimonials from customers explaining what it means to them to have high quality, dependable, high-speed internet.

“It’s really critical to have a skilled union workforce in place to not only install and repair these projects, but also to be ready to immediately repair them when a disaster occurs such as an extreme weather event,” said Hoh. “If Maine is getting money to build broadband, why bring in out-of-state nonunion contractors to come in, get paid and go home? It’s taxed out of state, they buy their property out of state and they raise their families out of state with money that’s supposed to be used for your state.”

Labor in the Pulpits: Maine Churches to Feature Labor Day Speakers

Across the country, labor leaders and union members will be speaking at churches, synagogues and mosques as part of the Labor in the Pulpit/Bimah/Minbar program. Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney will give a talk titled “Essential Workers, Essential Questions: Labor, Solidarity, and Faith” at an online service via Zoom at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick on Sunday, September 5, at 10am. The link to the service can be found here or you can watch it on YouTube.

Mike Seavey will also be delivering a sermon about the dignity of work at the First Parish Church in Portland on Sunday September 5, at 9:30am. Click here for the Zoom link. A former Catholic priest, Mike has been a pastor/administrator of the Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes and an advocate for workers’ rights and for low- income workers and workers who are refugees, immigrants or seeking asylum.