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Labor Legislative Update: Pro-Labor Bills Head to Governor's Desk

Andy O’Brien
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Below is a State Legislative update and recap on where things stand. Next week's Maine Labor News will include a deeper dive into the Supplemental budget that passed this week.

Labor Legislative Priorities on the Governor's Desk

Organizing Rights on Ports Work (LD 373): The Maine AFL-CIO and other unions have been working hard to ensure that the jobs created in the development of a new port in Maine and the larger clean energy industry are good jobs. The Maine House and Senate have voted to enact LD 373, which would ensure that workers have a free and fair chance to join a union for any manufacturing, fabrication, maritime or operations and maintenance work done in a new port.  The Governor has ten days to sign, veto the measure or let it go into law without her signature.

Labor Standards on Northern Maine Clean Energy Generation + Transmission Projects (LD 1963): Aroostock County has some of the greatest potential in Maine for clean energy, such as utility-scale wind projects, but is not connected to the US grid. LD 1963 establishes a program for the Maine PUC to solicit bids for up to 1,200 MW of clean energy generation projects -- enough to power a substantial portion of Maine's daily electricity needs -- and transmission projects to bring that power onto the grid. The law gives preference to developers who commit to Project Labor Agreements for construction work and neutrality agreements that would give operations and maintenance workers a free and fair chance to join a union.  

Improving Labor Law Enforcement (LD 372): The Maine Legislature has enacted LD 372, which would simplify procedures so that companies who violate labor laws are held accountable. The bill would give Maine Department of Labor the power to order an employer who engaged in wage theft to pay back wages and liquidated damages to the worker.  Coupled with other changes this session, this is a very important step forward to make sure that the labor and employment laws we have on the books are actually followed. The Governor has ten days to act on the measure.

Farmworker Minimum Wage & Concerted Activity (LD 2273 and LD 525): We are still waiting for Governor Mills to act on two bills that improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers. LD 2273 is the Governor's own bill. It would make farmworkers eligible for the state minimum wage (currently at $14.15) and grant them the right to take an action in court if their wages are stolen. LD 525 would gives agricultural workers the right to engage in certain protected concerted activity to improve the terms and conditions of employment

Labor Priorities On the Appropriations Table & Study Table

The Maine AFL-CIO has multiple priority bills on the Appropriations Table that require funding. We are continuing to work on these priorities and are hopeful that the Legislature will take action to fund these important measures

Retirement Security for Mental Health Workers (LD 1761 & LD 1760):  Workers at Maine's state psychiatric hospitals (Riverview and Dorothea Dix), as well as those that do the same work in the field, do stressful, difficult, and dangerous work. "We clock in every shift not knowing if we will end up in the hospital that day or night. We do jobs that are physically demanding, high-stress, and very hard to do for decades."  

Workers in other high-stress and dangerous jobs qualify for a special retirement plan. The state acknowledges that there are certain jobs, like being a corrections office, that you cannot do forever. Despite dealing with the same population of patients as corrections officers, and having fewer protections from violence on the job, mental health workers do not have access to the 25/55 retirement plans.

LD 1761 and LD 1760 would fix this by adding mental health, psychiatric nurses, and crisis workers to the 1998 special retirement plan. They have both passed the House and the Senate and now await funding on the Appropriations table. This is a top priority bill for AFSCME.

Support for Federal & State Workers During Government Shutdowns (LD 2113): A bill to provide federal and state workers with no interest loans during government shutdowns passed on party lines in the Maine House and Senate. It has a small cost and is waiting for the Appropriations Committee to allocate funding for it.

Pre-Apprenticeship Funding (LD 2280): The Maine AFL-CIO has been working to expand the use of pre-apprenticeship programs in Maine to open up good unions jobs to more workers historically denied these opportunities. Our bill (Sen. Tipping, D - Orono) to increase funding for pre-apprenticeship programs through the Maine Department of Labor received a unanimous committee vote and has been enacted in both the House and Senate. The bill is on the Appropriations Table awaiting action.  

Commission to Examine Forced Overtime in Paper Industry (LD 1794): This bill would create a special commission to examine the damaging practice of mandatory overtime in paper mills and recommend solutions, including legislation, to limit forced overtime. It has been enacted in both the House and Senate and is currently sitting on the Special Study Table awaiting a tiny amount of funding.

Labor Priorities That Did Not Pass

Buy American (LD 1983): A bill, supported by the Maine AFL-CIO, the Maine Building Trades, United Steelworkers and others, to encourage Maine and US jobs was defeated in the House this week. LD 1983  would require any materials valued over $5000 — such as iron, cement and steel — used in state-funded construction projects to be manufactured in the United States. The measure would also require that if two or more bids are submitted that are substantially similar, that the state give preference to in-state contractors in awarding the construction contract.

As noted above, next week's Maine Labor News will include a deeper dive into the State Supplemental budget.