Collective Bargaining Rights, Workers Memorial Day, Breakfast w/ Legislators & More!

Weekly Working Class Update

IN THIS EDITION:

  • Workers turn out for public sector collective bargaining bill
  • Unemployment/Vacation Pay Bill Passes
  • Fairly Compensating Public Employees
  • Worker Safety Bills
  • Collective Bargaining Rights for Farm Workers
  • Eliminating Toxic Chemicals in the Workplace
  • Public Hearings Next week
  • Eastern Maine Labor Council Legislative Breakfast
  • Workers Memorial Day events
  • Maine Women’s Labor History

— NEWS FROM THE STATE HOUSE —

WORKERS SUPPORT COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS BILL

Jordan Nickerson , a 9-1-1 dispatcher from Madison, testifies in support of LD 1177.


Firefighters, dispatchers, bus drivers and teachers turned out Monday to support a bill, LD 1177, that would give public sector workers a voice in contract negotiations over economic issues like wages and benefits. This law is urgently needed because labor laws are currently stacked against public sector workers. Currently, if workers and management can’t reach a contract, there is a process of mediation, fact-finding and then arbitration. But arbitration is not binding on economic issues like wages, insurance and retirement. This stacks the table against us and makes it harder to improve the services we all rely on.

Jordan Nickerson of Madison, a Somerset  County 9-1-1 Dispatch Supervisor and member of the Somerset Regional Communication Association, explained to lawmakers about the challenge of recruiting and retaining dispatchers because the pay is not competitive, the hours are long and the work is difficult and traumatic.

“There is a lingering sentiment out there that no matter what, nothing changes, we have no voice, we have no power," said Nickerson. "The lack of binding arbitration only reiterates that belief."

Portland firefighter Ben Freedman, a member of IAFF Local 740 and the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine, testified that firefighters have been threatened that if they take negotiations to arbitration, the municipal negotiator will take away their cost-of-living increases for “the hassle.”

“How is it reasonable that a management negotiator, can threaten to cut wages or increase health insurance premiums merely because we wish to exercise our right to a third party determination?" said Freedman. "This bill guarantees us nothing other than the inherent fairness of an independent third party review in the rare circumstance we can’t reach an agreement, just like every other corner of our society."

Members of the Maine Part-Time Faculty Association, AFT 5493, testified to the enormous pay disparities between adjuncts and full-time professors in the community college and university system.  Adjunct instructors must have advanced degrees, but are not eligible for benefits and earn roughly $15 to $18 per hour — the average salary of the custodial staff at the institutions where they teach.

"We’re sympathetic to the UMaine system, but we feel that the part-time teachers have not benefited at all over the past 30 years," said Dr. Jim Seymour of Gardiner, an adjunct professor and Vice President of the Maine Part-Time Faculty Association, AFT 5493. "We need a voice and without binding arbitration we have no voice.”

Please contact members of the committee and tell them to support LD 1177!

LEGISLATURE PASSES IMPORTANT UNEMPLOYMENT BILL

On Tuesday, the Maine House voted 86-55 to pass LD 75, which will ensure laid off workers do not have unemployment benefits delayed when they receive their vacation pay​. The Senate voted 20-13 to pass the measure last week. In 2011, the Legislature  changed the law so that employees with more than four weeks of vacation time due to them are disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.

People who show up to work every day deserve the same right to collect their vacation pay as their co-workers who use vacation time prior to becoming jobless without it delaying their unemployment insurance. However, the bill still faces another vote in the Appropriations Committee, so contact the members and tell to them support workers.

FAIRLY COMPENSATING PUBLIC EMPLOYEES

On Monday, the Labor and Housing Committee heard a bill (LD 1214) that would direct the state to conduct a comprehensive study of the compensation system for state employees. State employees currently earn substantially less than their private sector counterparts doing comparable work, according to a 2009 study by the Bureau of Human Resources. The committee will likely vote on this proposal in the coming weeks, so let them know you support LD 1214!

BUILDING TRADES SUPPORTS WORKER SAFETY BILLS

On Tuesday, the Labor and Housing Committee considered two bills, LD 902 and LD 904, that would direct the state to consider requiring heavy equipment operators and certain workers in the mechanical trades to be licensed. Currently, heavy equipment operators, pipefitters, sprinkler fitters, sheet metal workers, and thermal insulators are not required to be licensed despite the potential dangers of these trades.

In his testimony supporting LD 902 and LD 904, Grant Provost of Iron Workers Local 7 recalled how he was almost killed due to an unskilled crane operator mishandling the equipment. In a separate instance, a crane operator failed to lower a big crane's boom when there was a hurricane, which resulted in the crane tipping over and crashing through an apartment building.

"Licensing helps to police the job sites," he said.  "No contractor is going to risk getting sued with an unlicensed operator if there is an accident on site.  Today with no licensing its just another day."

Bob Burr of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 4 noted that there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2016, a seven percent increase from 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational injuries. But with proper licensing and training, future workplace injuries and deaths can be prevented.

“Construction laborers are still four times more likely to be killed on the job than the average employee,” said Burr. “Construction activity is at an all-time high and now is the time to stop this trend of serious injury and fatality. Some say that licensing is a solution in search of a problem. l’d ask this committee, should we wait for another casualty to finally act? The state of Maine can be at the forefront of making sure properly trained, licensed and safety-conscious operators are running the equipment in our state.”

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS FOR FARMWORKERS

On Monday, Maine AFL-CIO testified in support of a bill (LD 1211) that would allow agricultural workers to unionize and collectively bargain for wages, hours, working conditions and benefits, without fear of reprisal. Migrant farmworkers in Maine face a number of power imbalances related to immigration status, language barriers and economic vulnerability.

Back in December, eight migrant workers who make wreaths in Maine were fired after reporting sexual harassment to their employers. Workers alleged that the contractor would stop by the workers’ housing and repeatedly asked the women to have sex with them, according to Maine Public. When a group of men and women protested this treatment, they were fired and kicked out of their housing.

It’s this kind of gross exploitation that unions were designed to prevent. The same laws that allow working people in other sectors of Maine’s economy to negotiate collectively to improve working conditions should apply to agricultural workers,  especially in light of this unjust firing of eight workers for merely asserting a basic demand of bodily autonomy and a job free from sexual harassment.

ELIMINATING TOXIC CHEMICALS IN THE WORKPLACE

Mike Higgins of USW testifies in support of LD 1017.

On Monday, the Labor and Housing Committee also heard LD 1017, which would require workplaces to protect workers by eliminating highly toxic and  hazardous chemicals from the workplace and substituting them for safer alternatives. The measure would apply to a manufacturing facilities, construction and auto body repair. Mike Higgins, a former millworker and staff representative for the the United Steelworkers, cited a study by Berkeley’s Center for Occupational & Environmental Health which found that workers suffer more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths annually related to chemical exposures.

“We are looking to have our representatives lead our companies to do the right thing and to replace hazardous chemicals with safer alternative chemicals if available and thereby develop safer processes to to protect the workforce and the surrounding communities,” said Higgins. “The positive of this bill is that it will lower health care costs due to lower occupational diseases, lower risk management costs for the transport of hazardous chemicals to and from the facilities and decrease the amount of chemicals from the process going to landfills.”

Public Hearings Next Week

Below are the public hearings coming up in the State Legislature next week. Email us to let us know if you can attend or submit written testimony.

  • LD 1280, to require that all state-funded construction projects use building materials manufactured in the U.S.  (Maine AFL-CIO Supports): Monday, April 1, 9 am, Labor & Housing Committee.
  • LD 1232, a "right to work" for less bill, (Maine AFL-CIO Opposes): Wednesday, April April 3, 9 am, Labor and Housing Committee.
  • Workers compensation bills, Monday, April 8, 9 am, Labor and Housing Committee.

Legislators’ Labor Breakfast in Brewer, April 6th!

Eastern Maine Labor Council and Food and Medicine will hold their 10th Annual Legislators’ Breakfast from 8 to 10 am on Saturday, April 6th, at the Solidarity Center, 20 Ivers Street, Brewer. Come on down for a delicious, locally-sourced breakfast and talk to legislators about labor issues before the Legislature. $5 suggested donation. Seating is limited, so to reserve tickets call 989-4141 or e-mail [email protected].

Workers Memorial Day Events, April 26 & 28

Charlotte Brody of BlueGreen Alliance

Every year in the last week of April, we honor and remember workers who have died on the job. This year there will be two Workers’ Memorial Day events in Maine. The Western Maine Labor Council, AFL-CIO will hold its 13th

Annual Workers' Memorial Day/May Day Dinner on Sunday, April 28, 4:30pm pm at the Franco-American Heritage Center, 46 Cedar St., Lewiston.Socializing, including a cash bar, begins at 4:30 pm; program and dinner start at 5:15 pm.

The Western Maine Labor Council will be presenting the following awards at the dinner:

  • Workers’ Solidarity Award to the newly unionized Kennebec Valley CAP Drivers for organizing a union with the Machinists.

  • The Bruce D. Roy Award will be presented to Tom Fallon, a retired USW 900 member, steward and a working class poet who writes about labor’s struggles.

  • The Frances Perkins Award will be presented to Mary Anne Turowski, longtime political director at Maine State Employees Association, SEIU 1989 and now policy advisor to Governor Mills.

The event’s keynote speaker will be Charlotte Brody, Vice President of Environmental and Occupational Health Initiatives for the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to identifying ways to address environmental challenges while creating and maintaining quality jobs and building a stronger, fairer economy.

Tickets are $20 each or $150 for a table that seats eight people.  Many unions have purchased tables so check with your local to sit at your union’s table. Individual tickets may be purchased at the door, but space is limited so you must RSVP to Elaine Makas, 207-784-5726, [email protected] or reserve them here online.

The Maine Labor Group on Health will also be holding its Workers Memorial Breakfast on April 26, from 8 to 10 am at the Pipefitters Hall, 21 Gabriel Drive in Augusta. The special guest this year will be Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman. The breakfast is free, but please RSVP to [email protected] or call 622-7823.

The Saco Textile Strike of 1841

Since it’s Women’s History Month, we thought we’d share a little Maine women’s history this week. On March 29, 1841 the first recorded strike of Maine women workers occurred in Saco. Between 400 and 500 female operatives of the York Manufacturing Company, "who had previously been distinguished for growing intelligence and hitherto perfect propriety of behavior" went out on strike to protect and enhance their interests. They marched through the streets of Saco and Biddeford defiantly proclaiming, "We are not slaves! — We scorn the name! We ask not friend's or foreman's favor. We're freeman's daughters—and we claim the rights that woman's father gave her!" Sadly, the strike failed.

From Charles Scontras, “Collective Efforts Among Maine Workers: Beginnings and Foundations, 1820-1880.” ''York County Herald [Saco, Maine], April 15, 1841.