Labor Update: UNIONIZE THE NORTH WOODS!

IN THIS EDITION:

  • Workers Turn Out for State Green New Deal
  • Supporting 911 Dispatchers
  • Report on Golden’s New NAFTA Town Hall
  • Protecting Workers When the State Privatizes Services
  • Collective Bargaining Rights for Loggers

Unions Support Bill to Create Green Union Jobs, Tackle Climate Change

Representatives from Ironworkers Local 7, IBEW 1253 & 567, Maine Building Trades & Maine AFL-CIO in Augusta to support the State Green New Deal.

Workers traveled to Augusta on Tuesday to support a bill that will fight climate change, reduce income inequality and create high-quality renewable energy jobs for working class Mainers. LD 1282, “An Act to Establish a Green New Deal for Maine,” would require that 80 percent of Maine’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2040 while ensuring that these jobs are skilled and pay living wages with benefits.
LD 1282 would also create a well-trained workforce by requiring that up to a quarter of the workers on large renewable energy installations be trained through state and federally-approved apprenticeships.  Representatives from Ironworkers Local 7, IBEW Locals 1253 & 567 and the Maine Building Trades testified in support of the bill. 

“The lack of good paying jobs is the primary reason Maine is one of the oldest states in the nation. The green jobs created in this bill will not only encourage our youth to stay in Maine and be part of the solution to our climate challenges, but they will also bring in more tax revenue for the state to stimulate investments in infrastructure and public education,” said Grant Provost of South Berwick, Business Agent for Ironworkers Local 7. “Maine has an unprecedented opportunity to be a leader in the changing green economy.”

Isaac Smith of Auburn, a first-year electrical apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 567, explained how these apprenticeships provide a pathway into well-paying, skilled trades for young people in Maine.

“As a young person, I know how hard it can be to find good paying jobs in Maine and this will create thousands of jobs to install and service renewable energy projects. These local green jobs cannot be outsourced because the energy is available right here in Maine." said Smith. “These programs are incredibly important to those for whom college is not the most reasonable option. For certain young people like myself, these training programs are a way to provide the opportunity for a career, without the stress of college debt.”

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee is expected to vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

Emergency Responders Back Bill to Support 911 Dispatchers

Emergency Dispatchers at the State House to support LD 1395.

Emergency responders turned out on Monday to support a measure that would give local departments the option of allowing 911 dispatchers to retire earlier under a special state retirement plan. Dispatchers shared powerful stories and firefighters and members of law enforcement testified to the vital role dispatchers play in delivering lifesaving instructions to callers on the phone while ensuring that the appropriate authority arrives on the scene in a reasonable amount of time. Dispatchers work long hours, including holidays and weekends, in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment where they must make snap decisions that can be the deciding factor between life and death. 

"In my short four years of service, I have instructed CPR on an infant. I’ve talked people down who are contemplating taking their own lives. I’ve dispatched large scale fires, heard another human take their very last breath, worked through major storms that completely overwhelmed our center," said Kathleen Cole, a Biddeford dispatcher. "We are the first-first responders. We deal first hand with every single call for service, no matter the circumstance. We are charged with providing lifesaving instructions on the phone while simultaneously ensuring that the appropriate authority arrives on the scene in a timely manner." 
However, departments have been struggling to fill vacant dispatcher positions, which has forced some dispatchers in Portland to work mandated 16-hour shifts with just six hours to rest before the next shift. Some dispatchers have even gone so far as to sleep on bunks in the station between shifts. Currently, dispatchers must work 45 years before they can retire, but many become burned out before they reach retirement age. 

“Dispatching is one of the most stressful jobs in public safety. Dispatching is not just sitting at a desk. It’s listening to people’s worst nightmares as they happen, and trying to solve them in the mere minutes you have with a caller on the phone,” said Stephanie Richard, a Portland firefighter and member of IAFF Local 740. “Hearing the cries of others leaves lasting marks on those who hear them. Days of time-sensitive matters and long hours of constant stress have catastrophic effects on dispatcher health and mental status.... The very least we can do to support dispatchers is to reclassify them to allow them a better retirement.”

LD 1395 would allow, but not mandate, local departments to cover dispatchers under a special 25-year state retirement plan, which is already available to law enforcement, fire fighters, EMTs and corrections employees. Departments that elect to cover their dispatchers with the more favorable plan would be responsible for paying increased employer costs associated with it. The Labor and Housing Committee will vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

 Union Members Turn Out for Golden’s "Fix NAFTA" Forum  

Congressman Golden's town hall at the USW 9 Turner-Poulin Union Hall Tuesday night.

About 30 people, mostly union members from a variety of unions, gathered at USW 9 Turner-Poulin Union Hall in Skowhegan on Tuesday night for a public forum hosted by Congressman Jared Golden. Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney — as well as UFCW 1445 member, Maine AFL-CIO office manager, and our former rapid response coordinator  Christine Greenleaf —  joined him on a panel to discuss the impacts of NAFTA and the changes still needed in the new deal to make it a better than the old one followed by questions from the participants. 

You can find information from the AFL-CIO about the proposed new NAFTA here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bJL_xkoV9UR_q7-HELeViggLHBkLQlAbg_YhGx6EydM/edit?ts=5ca7866c

TAKE ACTION: help support Congressman Golden and Congresswoman Pingree to stand strong for “No Vote on NAFTA Until It’s Fixed” https://actionnetwork.org/forms/add-your-name-no-vote-on-nafta-until-it-is-fixed?source=LaborWire&link_id=2&can_id=8e8762d9405efefdfe0d45d32824e0a1&email_referrer=email_534202&email_subject=new-nafta-not-good-enough 

Unions Backs Bill to Allow Project Labor Agreements on Public Works Construction Projects 

Maine AFL-CIO testified on Wednesday in support of LD 1564, which would allow local governments and state agencies to require project labor agreements (PLAs) for public works projects if they determine they are in the public’s interest. PLAs are negotiated between the employer and unions to set wages and work rules before a large project is bid. They are a business model typically used on more complex, time sensitive projects to ensure projects are done on time and on budget with the highest quality of work.

“Project labor agreements protect the public entity from jobs going over budget and prevent labor disputes with the project,” said Chris Tucker of LIUNA Local 327. “This also helps workers because PLAs set the wages and benefits, so that workers aren’t signing up for food stamps or heating oil assistance while the owners are staying in Florida for the winter and living the high life.”

Union leaders also testified in support of LD 1564, which would improve the way that prevailing hourly wages & benefits are set on state construction projects. The Labor and Housing Committee has not yet scheduled a vote on either bill.

Protecting Workers When the State Privatizes Services

On Tuesday, Maine AFL-CIO spoke in favor of a bill that would protect workers when the state  seeks to privatize services. LD 1458 would require private state contractors to hire employees who were terminated due to privatization and to pay them wages and benefits commensurate with state employees. The proposal would also allow state agencies to submit competing bids to provide the privatized services. 

In recent years, the state has privatized several services previously handled in house, often without a transparent, public process. Although these private contractors promise to deliver services more cheaply and efficiently, there have been numerous examples where this hasn’t happened. 

For example, in 2014, the state was forced to cancel a contract with a company that brokered rides for low-income Mainers after widespread communication errors and software glitches caused residents across the state to miss their medical appointments. In many cases, these privatization schemes are just an excuse to slash wages and benefits for workers while enriching the pockets of well-connected private contractors. The State and Local Government committee will vote on LD 1458 in the coming weeks.

Hearing Monday, April 29 on Loggers Collective Bargaining Rights Bill & Plant Closure Legislation


Maine AFL-CIO will be supporting the rights of loggers and wood haulers to collectively bargain with forest products companies next week. Loggers and wood haulers work extremely long hours often for low pay and no benefits for larger, powerful timber corporations who profit from their labor. As so-called “independent contractors,” loggers are prohibited under anti-trust laws from banding together to bargain collectively over rates, benefits and working conditions. Without the right, they are forced to accept unfair contract rates for their services.

LD 1459 would correct this injustice by allowing loggers to form cooperatives and demand better wages and working conditions. Loggers and haulers deserve the same collective bargaining rights as potato farmers and lobster fisherman, who have been given anti-trust exemptions to form their own cooperatives. The public hearing on the bill will be in the Labor and Housing Committee on Monday, April 28 at 9 am in the Cross Building, Room 202.

Also on Monday, the Labor and Housing Committee will hold a public hearing on LD 596, which would require companies shutting down a facility to make an offer of sale, at fair market value, of the facility and equipment to an interested employee organization or business entity.

Support Worker Protections When Companies Outsource Jobs

Loyal employees deserve to be treated fairly when a large corporation closes, downsizes or outsources a facility. In the coming days, the Legislature will vote on LD 201, which would extend the state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act to require Maine employers with over 100 employees to notify workers within 90 days of mass layoffs. Current law only requires 60 days notice.

This bill will give workers time to plan financially for an impending job loss and pursue other job and retraining opportunities. It will also provide notice to concerned parties who may want to solicit offers for new ownership and keep the workplace open. Please click here to tell your legislators to support LD 201!

Committee Hears Bill to Crack Down on Wage Theft

Maine AFL-CIO testified this week in support of Senate President Troy Jackson’s bill (LD 1524) to crack down on businesses that engage in wage theft. During the public hearing on the bill, Jeffrey Neil Young of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association told lawmakers that wage theft is particularly prevalent in the building and construction sector where unscrupulous contractors exploit immigrant workers.

These employers often commit wage theft by refusing to pay the minimum wage and overtime, misclassifying workers or forcing them to work off the clock. Unfortunately, due to state hiring freezes, the state Department of Labor has only four staff members to investigate and enforce these laws and workers find its not worth it to go through the legal process to recoup stolen wages.

“If workers aren’t getting paid, then businesses shouldn’t be able to stay open,” Jason Shedlock, executive director of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council.

The Building Trades Council is also backing legislation that would require publicly funded projects to use pre-approved contractors so tax money isn’t used to pay construction firms that undercut wages by illegally misclassifying workers.

Remembering the "Battle of the Bridge"

In honor of May Day coming up next week, we recall some of the sacrifices Maine workers have made so that future generations could have a better standard of living. Here's a snippet from Maine Working Class History about the Lewiston-Auburn Shoe Strike of 1937.

On April 21, 1937, Governor Lewis Barrows ordered the Maine National Guard to Auburn after an intense day of clashes between strikers and state and local police. The first confrontation took place on the North Bridge as an enthusiastic crowd of strikers left a meeting in Lewiston City Hall and attempted to march into Auburn. They were met by state and Auburn police who stopped them from passing. A woman striker was hit with a club and the angered crowd surged forward, but was stopped again and eventually turned back.

The “battle of the bridge” was followed by what the Lewiston Daily Sun characterized as a “free-for-all riot” on Court Street in Auburn, involving a group of more than 500 strikers in the vicinity of the Cushman-Hollis building. In one incident, a state police officer attacked a woman striker on the railroad tracks near the Auburn City building. This upset the crowd of strikers, one of whom struck the officer with a rock, knocking him unconscious. The officer was taken to Central Maine General Hospital and a striker charged with wielding the rock was arrested and taken to police headquarters.

This was also the first time that tear gas was used in a Maine labor dispute. Numerous bombs were thrown which “served most effectively to disperse the crowd” near the Cushman factory. “Their eyes streaming water, strikers ran for cover,” wrote the Lewiston Daily Sun. “When those who did not get enough the first time returned more bombs greeted them.