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Building Trades Unions, Lobstering Union Testify in Support of Bill to Protect Fisheries & Raise Labor Standards for Offshore Wind

Andy O’Brien
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Last week, a broad coalition of unions, fishermen and environmental, church and immigrant groups turned out in support of legislation to support thousands of good union jobs in the offshore wind industry and to protect Maine's fisheries. LD 1895 enacts top recommendations from the State of Maine's Offshore Wind Roadmap by setting a procurement schedule for offshore wind and establishing standards for wildlife, fisheries, and environmental monitoring and mitigation.

The proposal includes the strongest possible labor standards for offshore wind build out including Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) so that these projects support good jobs with living wages, great benefits and workers' rights. Following the lead of the Maine Building Trades Council and the Maine Lobstering Union (IAM 207), the Maine AFL-CIO Executive Board voted unanimously to support this important bill.

The Maine Lobstering Union (IAM 207), which still strongly opposes offshore wind,testified in support of the bill because it seeks to ensure that the wind turbines are built outside of Lobster Management Area One (LMA 1) in order to protect the generational fishing grounds that support thousands of livelihoods in our coastal communities.

“To protect the fishery, we cannot table this bill,” said Ginny Olsen, a fifth generation lobsterman and MLU member. “We need to say clearly that we value and will protect our states resources by siting commercial Offshore Wind outside LMA 1. We will stand beside our fishing industry and together we will all give a little to make Maine’s energy goals a reality and still protect the heritage fishery that has served our state and been its identity for generations.  Lets all hope it will be for generations to come."

Several members of IBEW 567, IBEW 1253, Operating Engineers 4, Ironworkers 7 and Carpenters 349 also testified in support of the bill.

“It's no secret that wages in Maine are not competitive, and this leads to workers in all vocations leaving to secure a brighter financial future. One that they feel Maine cannot currently provide,” said IBEW 567 member Joseph Burg of Lewiston. “While this legislation won't immediately solve this problem, it would create many skilled, good-paying jobs that hard working, trained, and skilled Maine union laborers will stick around for.”

IBEW 1253 journeyman wiremen Derek Proctor of Troy said that while he wasn’t “sold on climate change,” he supports getting off fossil fuels and the best way to do that is by building renewable energy projects with skilled, local union labor. He noted that non-union contractors often bring in crews from other states even when there are Mainers ready to work. Unions put local workers first.

“Here’s the biggest thing for me: I want this work done by Mainers. Mainers should get the benefit of the money being spent on these and going union is a good way to make sure that gets done,” said Proctor. “In my union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, no one from a different local can even get on a job until all of the local people get a chance at the work. By going union with this work you’d guarantee that Mainers would get first dibs on the jobs created by offshore wind.”

Operating Engineers Local 4 apprentice Jayme Skelton of Lewiston described the struggle so many building trades workers face in leaving their families to work out of state.

“To do this I have to make a big sacrifice. I have to leave behind my wife and two kids. While this is not what I want to do, right now I have no other choice to make a livable wage and have the great benefits and training the union has to offer,” said Skelton. “Bringing more family-sustaining union jobs to the state of Maine will allow Mainers like me and many others to have a successful career in our home state that we love. I want nothing more than to be able to come home to my family every night.”