The Maine AFL-CIO Weekly Working Class News Update

In this E-Newsletter:

  • USW Member Wins School Board Election
  • Congressman Golden to Discuss NAFTA 2.0 at Maine Fair Trade Dinner
  • Workers’ Comp Reform
  • Earned Paid Sick Leave Bill Passes Committee
  • Right to strike!
  • Taxing Wealthy Heirs & Heiresses
  • Non-Compete Clause Ban Passes Committee
  • Missclassification of Workers

 Rep. Golden to Discuss NAFTA 2.0 at Maine Fair Trade Annual Dinner on March 20

Congressman Jared Golden will discuss the Trump administration’s proposed revision of the NAFTA trade agreement at the annual Maine Fair Trade Campaign dinner at the Plumbers & Pipefitters Hall at 21 Gabriel Drive in Augusta at 6 pm on March 20. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has also been invited to attend, but has not yet confirmed. Social hour begins at 5:30 pm. Tickets are free, but donations are greatly appreciated. Click here to register!  

The revised NAFTA trade agreement makes some modest improvements, but it still lacks robust enforcement of labor and environmental protections for working people as well our clean air and water. Expanded patent rights for pharmaceutical corporations in the proposal will also make lifesaving medicines even less affordable. Congress must demand changes to the agreement or our race to the bottom will only get worse and worse.

USW Member Kathy Wilder Wins School Board Seat

United Steel Workers Local 9 member Kathy Wilder, who works as a chemical prep operator at Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan, won a write-in election for school board in MSAD 54 Monday night. Kathy says that her priorities will be student achievement, fiscal responsibility, clear communications and social justice.

“Being elected to the school board is really exciting for me because I grew up in Norridgewock and attended k-12 in MSAD 54,” she said after finishing a night shift at the mill. “Now I have to give back to the community by working to make the future a brighter and stronger place for today’s youth.”

Kathy worked with the Maine AFL-CIO in 2018 as part of our Labor Candidate training program to elect more union members and working class people to elected office at all levels. She ran for the Maine State Legislature in 2018. Congrats on your new position, Kathy!

--- The Latest News From Augusta ---

Maine AFL-CIO Backs Bills to Help Injured Workers

Members of the Maine AFL-CIO backed several bills this week that would bolster the safety net for workers who have been injured on the job. Firefighters delivered powerful testimonies in support of LD 600, sponsored by Sen. Shenna Bellows (D-Manchester), which would modernize outdated workers comp laws so that mental health injuries are treated the same as physical injuries. The measure would change 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.

“I have witnessed things that people should never have to see — people burned or crushed to death, people dismembered and decapitated, heart attacks, murders, suicides, and so on. I have dealt with so many dead babies and children early in my career that for years, until I had my own grandchildren, I could not hold a friend’s or relative’s live baby,” said retired Bangor firefighter/EMT Ronnie Green, District Vice President with the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine.  “I have also witnessed first-hand the toll that these mental injuries take on firefighters and other first responders. Some that were previously happy go-lucky people became isolated, withdrawn, and in some cases, unable to function, some have committed suicide. It is time to recognize that mental injuries are just as real and as debilitating as physical injuries and there is absolutely no reason why someone who has suffered a mental injury at work should have to prove more than someone who has suffered a physical injury at work.”

Workers’ comp laws were originally designed to strike a grand bargain between management and labor. As part of the deal, workers gave up the right to sue over work-related injuries, which was an enormous win for management. In exchange, labor was supposed to be provided with adequate wage replacement and medical coverage for workplace injuries. However, in the past few decades lawmakers have weakened workers’ comp laws to drive down insurance costs for employers. Working people who suffered no-fault injuries on the job once received annual cost-of-living increases for workers’ comp benefits, but the Legislature eliminated those COLAs in 1992. We are pushing to pass LD 601, sponsored by Sen. Shenna Bellows (D-Manchester), which would restore those COLAs.

“A person injured in 2001 has the same purchasing power today as they did 17 years ago,” explained Machinists S89 member Carol Sanborn, a paralegal at the firm  McTeague-Higbee, which handles workers’ comp cases. “Passing this bill would be a small step toward rectifying some of the inequity that has been caused by the erosion of our workers’ comp laws over the last 25 years.”

On Wednesday, Maine AFL-CIO testified on three more workers’ comp bills that would make the system more fair for injured workers, which you can read about here. The Labor and Housing Committee is expected to take up all of the bills and vote on one comprehensive workers’ comp reform legislation at a future date, so contact the committee members and tell them to support these important bills!

          Earned Paid Sick Leave Passes Committee

The Labor and Housing Committee voted on party lines Wednesday to provide the right to paid sick leave for the nearly 200,000 Mainers who don’t currently have the benefit. 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. The measure would ensure 90 percent of Maine workers have access to paid sick days while still exempting 60 percent of businesses from the mandate. If it passes, Maine would join ten states that have already instituted earned paid sick time. The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate so contact your legislators and ask them to support LD 369!

Public Sector Right to Strike Bill Coming Soon!

From West Virginia and Kentucky to Denver, Los Angeles and Oakland, teachers across the nation are striking or holding “sick-outs” to improve schools and address long-neglected needs of our children. Through direct action, teachers have secured important victories, including increased school funding, healthier learning environments for students and pay increases for woefully underpaid school staff. Whether it’s teachers, bus drivers or janitors, it takes collective action for workers to advocate effectively for each other and the important services they provide.

Yet in Maine, the laws are tilted against public sector workers. In the public sector, if the parties can’t reach a contract, there is a process that involves mediation, fact-finding and then arbitration. But under Maine law, arbitration is binding on all issues except for economic issues like salary, insurances and retirement. So, even after an arbitration, public employers can simply impose their original offer on workers. Public employees also do not have the right to strike, leaving them without a critical tool to strengthen public services Mainers count on — services that for years have been understaffed and underfunded.

In the coming weeks, we will be advocating very hard for two bills that would right this wrong. LD 900, sponsored by Rep. Mike Sylvester (D-Portland), would allow public employees to strike while another bill would grant public employees the right to go to binding arbitration over salaries, pensions, and insurance. So stay tuned because you’ll be hearing a lot more about them!

Committee Passes Bill to Ban Abuse of Employee Non-Compete Agreements

The Labor & Housing Committee also voted 7-5 on Wednesday to support  LD 733,  which 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. This is an outrageous anti-worker practice and needs to be banned. LD 733 now faces further votes  in the House and Senate so contact your legislators and tell them to support LD 733!

Bill to Repeal Tax Cuts for the Heirs of Multi-Millionaires

On Wednesday, the Legislature’s Taxation Committee held a public hearing on two bills that would repeal a tax cut that only benefits the wealthy heirs of multi-millionaires. LD 420 and LD 518 would restore the estate tax for inheritances worth over $2 million. The threshold for the estate tax was increased to $5.6 million as part of a series of income tax cuts in 2011 that provided a windfall for the rich while shifting the tax burden onto the working class through higher property and sales taxes.

It’s estimated that restoring this small tax would bring in bring in $30 million and it would only apply to about 750 estates. Many of these heirs and heiresses aren’t even living in Maine. At a time of soaring wealth inequality and as local governments struggle to fund schools, police and fire protection, we believe that restoring this modestl tax on the one percent is a no-brainer. Contact your legislators and tell them to fully restore the estate tax!

Bill to Address Exploitation of “Independent Contractors” Introduced

On Wednesday, the Labor and Housing Committee held a public hearing on LD 819, which would give the Workers’ Compensation Board another tool to determine whether contractors are illegally misclassifying workers as “independent contractors.” Jason Shedlock, executive director of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council, explained how unethical contractors will often hire carpenters, painters or roofers and call them “independent contractors” to avoid paying wages and benefits. The employee then gets a 1099 form at the end of the year and loses out on the employer paying their social security, disability tax and other state and federal taxes.

LD 819 would require a worker who is requesting predetermination of independent contractor status from the Workers' Comp Board to submit all of the miscellaneous income tax forms from the previous year. Workers who did not receive a miscellaneous income forms for the previous year would have to provide an explanation as to why they did not receive a form.

“Misclassification of employees as independent contractors harms workers, the government and above board contractors who already treat their employees with dignity and respect,” wrote Robert Burr, Business Manager of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council. “LD 819 is a tool for the state to reduce this unfair activity and level the playing field for all workers and contractors.”