From Iraq to Maine

IN THIS EDITION:

  • From Iraq to Maine: An Interview with USW 366 Unit President, Anaam Jabbir
  • Union Business Spotlight: Xtreme Screen Printing
  • Governor Mills’ Change Package Fully Funds Education and Revenue Sharing
  • Bill to Improve Unemployment System Clears Committee
  • Committee Passes Bill to Protect Whistleblowers
  • Maine AFL-CIO Gives Race & Labor Presentation to Legislative Committee

From Iraq to Maine: An Interview with USW Local 366 Unit President & steward, Anaam Jabbir

Anaam Jabbir, USW Local 366 unit President and steward at American Roots in Westbrook


When United Steelworkers Local 366 unit President, Anaam Jabbir, was growing up, she never imagined that she would end up in Maine. Unfortunately, just after she graduated from college with a degree in agricultural science in 1991, war broke out between the US and her native Iraq, which disrupted her career ambitions. Then in 2003, the US invaded Iraq. In a recent interview for the American Roots newsletter, Jabbir described how she and her family fled to Jordan after her husband was threatened at the restaurant he owned in 2005. Finally, in July of 2008, the family was able to immigrate to the US.

“We wanted a good life for our children, so we decided to go to the immigration office in Jordan and tell our story about being threatened,” said Jabbir. “I also had two brothers-in-law that were killed in Iraq. We decided to move because our country was still dangerous, and we were scared.”

The family first settled in Atlanta, Georgia. After hearing that Maine was a much more welcoming place,  Jabbir and her family came to Maine in 2009. Six years later, she became the first student in training producing union made apparel at American Roots in Westbrook. 

Now she's a union leader in her workplace as the USW 366 unit President and union steward at American Roots. "I like this role because I'm close with the employees, I listen to them, and I'm friendly with them. I like this job." 

Since arriving, Jabbir has achieved her dreams of becoming a citizen, buying a home and sending her children to college. Now she wants to focus on building her skills and becoming better at her job. The one thing Jabbir says she would like to change about her new home is to have a better health care system.

“In Iraq, we had free health care. Here in America, it’s very expensive,” she said. “People pay too much, from my kids to my friends. This is a problem. My hope for America is that health care can be for all people; affordable for everyone. And the unions are fighting for this issue.”

Union Business Spotlight — Xtreme Screen Print & Sportswear

IBEW 2327 members Mike Phillips and Melanie Grout at Xtreme Screen Print in Westbrook.


Are you looking for a good union shop to screen print or embroider designs on items such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, flags, glasses, team uniforms, sporting equipment and more? Check out Xtreme Screen and Sportswear, a custom screen printing and embroidery company in Westbrook. In addition to providing excellent quality work, Xtreme Screen Print workers are proud members of IBEW 2327 who earn living wages with great benefits.

“I was surprised that I would have the opportunity to join a union in such a small company and it’s really cool,” said IBEW 2327 member Melanie Grout, who is training to be a lead embroiderer at the company. “We have a nice small team and there’s always good communication.”

Mike Phillips, the screen printing production lead, said he has worked for several years in the industry, but this is the first time he’s been part of a union.

“It’s great. I love the benefits. They’re fantastic,” he said. “I would 100 percent recommend that any workers considering forming a union to go for it. You’re so much better taken care of when you’re part of a union.”

If you would like to place an order with Xtreme Screen Print & Sportswear or learn more about the services they offer check our their website or call 207-857-9200.

Governor Mills’ Change Package Budget Fully Funds Education and Revenue Sharing to Towns and Cities

Last week, the Maine AFL-CIO testified in favor of Governor Janet Mills’ budget proposals to fully fund K-12 education at 55 percent and fully restore revenue sharing to towns and cities. Maine voters have twice voted to require the state to fund education at 55 percent — first in 2004 and again in 2016 — but the Legislature and previous Governors have ignored the law. By fully funding education, this will not only improve education opportunities around the state, but it will also lower the property taxes and allow for more investments for municipal services.

Governor Mills’ proposal to fully restore revenue sharing will help local governments invest in maintaining roads, public safety and other critical services while also keeping property taxes in check. Revenue sharing was established in the early 1970s to replace the business inventory tax and help towns and cities pay the cost of mounting state mandates. At the time, property taxes were skyrocketing and revenue sharing helped keep them down. 

However, under the LePage administration, revenue sharing was cut from 5 percent to just 2 percent, which has starved municipalities of over $707 million since 2009. The Mills budget plan will bring it up year by year from 3.75 percent to 5 percent. 

“Full funding of revenue sharing is also a tool to clean up Maine’s messy tax code,” noted Adam Goode, Maine AFL-CIO's Legislative and Political Director. "The highest income households have seen disproportionate benefits through income tax breaks in 2011, 2015 and 2017. While we have seen 12 years of cuts to revenue sharing, there has been no significant change to our lopsided tax policy that enables the top 1 percent of Maine households to pay less of their income in state and local taxes than people who earn less."

Both of these proposals will also support public sector municipal unions to negotiate fair contracts for their members.

Bill to Improve Unemployment System Clears Committee 

The Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Housing voted last week to advance a bill that will improve the state’s unemployment system and help workers transition to their next careers. The amended version of LD 1564 will help fix the state unemployment system and strengthen our workforce training programs. The bill grows directly out of the experience of workers who have struggled with the UI system during the pandemic. It will:

  • Create a Peer Workforce Navigator program to help unemployed workers connect to apprenticeship and training programs, find good paying jobs, access Unemployment benefits and identify problems in the system.
  • Increase supplemental unemployment benefits for dependent children for the first time in 30 years. Currently the dependent allowance is just $10 a week.
  • Increase the eligibility and benefit amount for workers who are partially unemployed.
  • Remove the disqualification for workers who must suddenly leave work for an emergency, such as a loss of child care, elder care or transportation.
  • Repeal interest on non-fraud related overpayments.

Please click here to tell Governor Mills and the your local legislators to support this critical pro-worker legislation.

Committee Passes Bill to Strengthen Enforcement of Workplace Rights 

Former Dollar General employee Berndt Erikson of Kittery speaks out in More Perfect Union video.


The Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee voted Wednesday on party lines to protect the rights of workers and allow them to take action against workplace violations, such as wage theft, sexual harassment and other abuses. LD 1711 would allow workers to bring private enforcement actions to ensure their rights are protected.

Speaking at the public hearing on the bill, Berndt Erikson of Kittery, who recently made headlines for speaking out against his former employer Dollar General, said that he was forced to sign away his right to a day in court over workplace abuses as a condition of his employment. These forced arbitration agreements prevent workers from pursuing justice through the court over labor violations. Instead, employees must go through a private arbitration process that heavily favors the employer

“I would most commonly work an unpaid break in order to put away refrigerated items: The delivery truck would show up when I was on break, and I was the only person with the authority to receive the truck," said Erikson. "These were some of the most stressful nights to work — working a 9-hour shift and not having the time to eat or stop working.”

new report from the National Employment Law Project found that employers who relied on forced arbitration provisions pocketed an estimated $40 million owed to Maine workers earning less than $13 an hour. NELP estimates at least 225 Maine employers include forced arbitration provisions in employment contracts. Currently, the Maine Department of Labor has just five Labor and Safety Inspectors to oversee an estimated 55,331 employers and 584,143 employees in the state. As a result, many workplace violations go undetected. LD 1711 will now head to the Maine House and Senate for a vote.

Maine AFL-CIO Gives Race & Labor Presentation to Legislative Committee

Last week, Maine AFL-CIO Communications Director Andy O’Brien gave a presentationon the history of race and labor before the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee at the invitation of Senator Craig Hickman, the Senate Chair of the committee. The Legislature is currently considering two bills that would provide collective bargaining rights to farm workers and allow them to be covered by minimum wage and overtime laws just like other workers. Senator Hickman requested the presentation to provide some historical context as to why farmworkers and domestic laborers are not currently protected under these laws.

The slide presentation covered the history of colonization; how racism was used to justify keeping Africans in bondage in order for capital to extract wealth from their labor and build the foundation of the economy in early America; the history of violence and discrimination against Black workers in Maine and how Democrats in the 1930s used “race neutral” language to exclude Black farmworkers and domestic workers from the benefits of New Deal legislation, including he National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, because these workers in the South were predominantly Black  and President Franklin Roosevelt needed the votes of racist Southern Democrats to pass these laws. You can watch the full presentation here.