Maine AFL-CIO Weekly Update: Legislative Round-up!

In this E-Newsletter:

  • Introducing our new communications director
  • Earned paid sick leave bill
  • Collective bargaining rights for teachers
  • Anti-outsourcing legislation
  • Non-compete clause bill
  • Gender pay equality
  • Workers compensation legislation

Brothers and Sisters!

My name is Andy O’Brien and I am the new communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO. I grew up in a union household in Lincolnville and I’ve spent the past seven years as the managing editor of The Free Press in Rockland. Prior to that, I served two terms representing my hometown in the Maine Legislature. I gained a passion for unions after reporting on abhorrent working conditions in Taiwanese factories as a reporter in Asia and from my own experience working in Maine. In addition to my full-time job here at the AFL-CIO, my wife Hanji and I own O’Chang Animation Studio in Rockland. It's an extremely exciting time to be in the labor movement and we're seeing more energy than we have in years -- from the inspiring victories of striking teachers to more union activity in the health care sector, retail and even craft brewing. Starting this week, we will be sending out weekly newsletters from the frontlines of Maine’s labor movement. I welcome any questions, comments or suggestions you have and you can reach me at [email protected] or by phone here at (207) 622-9675 ext. 15.

In solidarity,

                        Andy

----- News from the State House -----

Workers Testify in Support of Earned Paid Sick Leave Bill

Pat Carleton, President of USW Local 9 testify in support of earned paid sick leavePat Carleton, President of USW Local 9 testify in support of earned paid sick leave. For more testimonials from our members click here!

Workers from across the state came out in force on Monday to support a bill to mandate the right to paid sick leave for the 198,000 Mainers who don’t have access to paid sick time at work. LD 369, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth), would guarantee the right to earned paid sick leave for employees working for companies with more than five workers and a right to unpaid sick leave for employers with fewer than five workers. Workers testified about the stress of choosing between earning enough to pay the bills and recovering from an illness or caring for a sick family member. Mill workers explained how hourly employees can get penalized or even fired for taking time off due to an illness. Patrick Carleton of Chesterville, a welder/pipefitter at Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan and President of United Steelworkers Local 9, testified that his local has been working to secure earned paid sick time for its members for 15 years, but the company refuses to implement the policy.

“When someone comes to work with any type of malady, it gets passed around to everyone and eventually affects entire crews over short periods of time,” said Carleton. “But we are Mainers. We get up, go to work and often nothing will stop us from getting there. Not sniffles, not head colds, not chest colds, not even the flu. That’s just who we are. It is time that we recognize that some of these illnesses are so strong that they kill people. If we had the ability to not lose pay for missing a day’s work, I believe that my membership and the company’s employee base would be healthier for it.”

10 states, the District of Columbia and 33 other jurisdictions already have paid sick leave laws. A committee vote for the bill has not yet been scheduled.

Call Center Workers Support Bill to Prevent Outsourcing

Members of CWA Local 140Members of CWA Local 1400 with Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town)

Members of CWA Local 1400 showed up at the State House to support legislation aimed at preventing outsourcing and protecting good Maine jobs. LD 201, sponsored by Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town), would make any employers who outsource call centers ineligible for state grants, loans or tax breaks for five years and they would require them to pay back any state tax benefits they previously received. The measure would also make information about corporate offshoring of call centers available to the public, which would give consumers the right to choose whether to support companies that outsource Maine jobs.In addition, it would prohibit state agencies from outsourcing call center work.

In recent years, many companies have closed down or downsized call centers, putting scores of Maine employees out of work and harming families and communities. At the same time, many of those same companies have opened call center operations in Asia and Latin America, where work is cheap and conditions are poor. The Labor and Housing Committee is expected to vote on the measure next week.

            Collective Bargaining Rights for Teachers

Last week, the Maine AFL-CIO joined local teachers in support of LD 240, which would allow teachers to negotiate with school districts over educational policies, such as class sizes, planning and prep time and transfers. Under current law, educators cannot negotiate anything related to educational policy. This has the effect of limiting negotiations to a few items related to wages and working conditions.We believe that better working conditions for teachers means a better learning environment for our children.

Maine AFL-CIO Supports Bill to End Abuse of Non-Compete Clauses

Maine AFL-CIO testified on Wednesday in support of legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring low-wage workers from signing so-called “non-compete agreements” that prevent them from seeking work elsewhere. Non-competes have traditionally been used to prevent high-salaried employees from sharing trade secrets and other proprietary information with competitors. But in recent years fast food restaurants and other service sector employers have abused the agreements by preventing employees from seeking better pay and benefits at rival employers.

“We believe that workers should be able to take on new opportunities to improve their lives without fear of a lawsuit by a current or past employer,” said Adam Goode, Maine AFL-CIO’s Legislative and Political Director. “Allowing CEOs to require low wage employees to sign non-compete clauses presents an unnecessary barrier to economic stability. This bill seeks to help people improve their lives and secure better jobs.” 

LD 733, sponsored by Rep. John Schneck (D-Bangor), would prohibit companies from forcing employees earning roughly $36,000 a year or less to sign non-competes and would require employers to disclose in help wanted ads if new hires must sign a non-compete. The measure would also prohibit employers from entering into so-called “no-poach” agreements with other companies that restrict the hiring of another employer’s workers. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Treasury reported that 15% of workers earning less than $40,000 a year work under a non-compete clause. The committee is expected to vote on LD 733 in the coming weeks.

Gender Pay Equity Bill Passes Committee

The Labor and Housing Committee voted 8-5 on Monday to recommend passage of a bill aimed at reducing the gender pay gap between men and women. LD 278, sponsored by Sen. Cathy Breen (D-Falmouth), would provide that evidence of employer pay discrimination includes asking jobs applicants for their salary history prior to offering them a job. The measure would also prohibit employers from forbiding employees from disclosing their wages to each other and would make the practice a violation of the Maine Human Rights Act.

Currently, white women in Maine earn 78 cents to every dollar their male counterparts make, while women of color earn even less. Women disproportionally work in underpaid and undervalued professions, so basing one's wage off of prior salaries limits a worker's chance to move into professions that offer significantly better pay. Maine AFL~ClO believes that working people should be valued based on their skills, experiences and credentials, not on previous salaries. Similar laws have passed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Delaware, Hawaii, and California.

---- Workers' Comp. Bills Coming Up Next week! ----

A number of bills that impact Workers’ Compensation will be heard in the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee on Monday, March 4th and Wednesday, March 6th.  The Committee meets in room 202 of the Cross State Office Building.

Maine’s workers’ compensation laws have been weakened over recent years as the workers benefits side has been systematically chipped away in favor of employers.  This session we hope to fix some of the bad changes that have been made over the past decade.  The deck is stacked against injured workers in both small and big ways, and we want to restore the system so that it works for workers who are hurt on the job.

Please consider coming to Augusta to testify on either March 4th or March 6th.  If you know anyone who has been impacted by any of the specific issues in these bills, please let us know and we can work with you to have them testify.  Direct stories are very helpful. These two days of hearings will not encompass all of the Workers’ Comp related bills for 2019, so there will be future public hearings this session on other workers’ comp bills, including an important bill  to repeal the cap on long term partial benefits.  This cap was enacted under Gov. Paul LePage, and the bill to repeal it will be one of the bigger comp. fights this year.  We will post an update as soon as the hearings on those additional bills are scheduled.

Monday, March 4th at 8 am

LD 601: An Act to Create Fairness in Weekly Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Position: SUPPORT

The early 1990s Workers Compensation law changes removed Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) annual increases from weekly benefits. For workers receiving benefits for multiple years, this seriously impairs their purchasing power – and with no policy justification.  Currently you get the same rate of benefits in year 1 as year 3, 4, 5, etc..  and your buying power goes down every year.  This bill would restore the COLA for weekly benefits.

LD 600: An Act to Achieve Mental Health Parity in Workers’ Compensation

Position: SUPPORT

LD 600 would improve Maine’s Workers’ Compensation laws by changing the standard of proof required to demonstrate entitlement to compensation for a mental injury caused by stress so that it is the same standard as is required with respect to physical injuries.  This bill is important to first responders and other workers who are impacted by post- traumatic stress injuries.

Wednesday, March 6th at 10 am

LD 947: An Act to Extend the Notice of Injury Period in the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act of 1992

Position: SUPPORT

In 2011, the notice period to report an injury to the employer was cut from 90 days to 30 days.  This means that workers only have a short window of time to notify their employers of an injury before their chance to have a claim is completely shut off. This bill would extend the notice period from 30 days to 180 days.

LD 901: An Act to Clarify the Statute of Limitations under the Workers’ Compensation Act

Position: SUPPORT

Prior to 2011, an injured worker had two years to file a claim from either the date of the injury or from the date the employer filed the First Report of Injury (FROI) – whichever date was later. In practice this matters in cases where the employee does not lose time from work until well after the date of the injury (like when the injury is gradual in nature). This changed under Gov. LePage, however, and now the two-year statute of limitations can start without the filing of a First Report of Injury. The practical impact is that the two years can run out on a worker and the worker might never have been notified of his/her rights.  This bill reverts to the way it was before 2011.

LD 758: An Act to Clarify Work Search Requirements for Workers’ Compensation

Position: SUPPORT

Currently, if an employer wants an injured worker who is out on comp to take a different job, the burden is on the worker to find a job they can do despite their injuries. This bill would shift that burden to be on the employer to identify actual available jobs. This would significantly streamline the work search process and reduce litigation.

Please consider coming out in support of these important bills!