Maine Working Class Update: KVCAP Drivers Unionize, the Fight for Revenue Sharing & More

In this edition:

  • Augusta KVCAP Drivers for Union
  • The to fight to fully fund revenue sharing
  • Workers oppose proposed minimum wage cuts
  • Supporting state workers
  • Sign the NAFTA 2.0 petition
  • Maine Working Class History FB

Augusta KVCAP Drivers Vote to Unionize!

We want to give a warm welcome to seventeen new members of the labor movement! On Monday, drivers with Kennebec Valley Community Action Partners (KVCAP) in Augusta voted overwhelmingly to form a union and affiliate with IAM District Lodge 4.

“Our experience as drivers can now be a part of the formal decision-making process and that will strengthen the organization and help better serve our passengers,” said driver Peter Nielsen of Winthrop. “When our working conditions and when our job descriptions are up for discussion, we want a seat at the table.”

CAP agencies were established as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s as a way to fight poverty and empower low-income individuals. KVCAP drivers provide rides to low-income Mainers to medical appointments, drug treatment and work. Nielsen says he truly enjoys his job serving fellow Mainers and as a union member it will be even better.

“I love it. I absolutely love it,” said Nielsen. “I’m 66 years old, I retired from a job that was pretty stressful and I look forward to coming to work now. This is the perfect job for me at this point in my life.”

The drivers at KVCAP will be forming a bargaining committee to negotiate a first contract with KVCAP.  Jay Wadleigh, the business representative with Machinists District Lodge 4 says that the Machinists will now reach out to the program’s drivers in Skowhegan and Waterville.


Fire Fighters Say Revenue Sharing Funding Cuts Are Putting Public's Safety At Risk

Portland Firefighter Ben Freedman of IAFF Local 740 urges legislators to fully fund revenue sharing.

Firefighters and municipal employees on Wednesday urged the Legislature to fully fund revenue sharing at 5 percent. For several years, the state has fallen short of its commitment to provide 5 percent of state income and sales tax revenue to communities, forcing cash-strapped cities and towns to make up the difference by either cutting essential services, raising property taxes or often both. As a result, fire departments have been understaffed, local roads are crumbling, schools are underfunded and municipal employees have been laid off or forced to accept higher health insurance costs and stagnant wages.
Lewiston firefighter Trent Beaule told legislators that his local recently went three years without a contract because they were asking for safer staffing levels, but the city budget has been squeezed due to state revenue sharing cuts.
“On many occasions this lack of resources  leaves us no choice but to let the fire grow uncontested while we focus on life safety and rescue,” said Beaule, who is a member of IAFF Local 785. “In one case a three-story apartment building was fully involved with people trapped on the outside porches. As our training dictates we focused on life over property and rescued the trapped citizens. In that time the fire spread to two other buildings, further increasing the danger, before we were able to switch gears back to fire suppression. That is why revenue sharing is important to me. Our municipalities need that revenue to properly support its public services and in turn citizens around the whole state of Maine."
By state law, revenue sharing was scheduled to automatically rise from 2 percent to 5 percent this year. However, Governor Janet Mills' proposed budget would reduce revenue sharing to 2.5 percent in 2020, then raise it slightly to 3 percent in 2021.  At the same time, the governor’s budget locks in income tax cuts that primarily benefit wealthy households, costing the state $860 million in foregone revenue this budget cycle.

“We responded to over 15,000 calls last year, many driven by a swelling tourism industry and more tragically by the opioid epidemic,” said Portland Firefighter Ben Freedman of IAFF Local 740.Being an urban center also means that we are the center for those seeking services, housing, and treatment for addition. People seeking these further stress our core services that we provide municipally. For us cuts to programs like revenue sharing have real effects on our infrastructure and our people,” he said.  “We are no longer cutting the fat. We are down to the muscle.”

Please ask your friends and family to sign our petition asking lawmakers to fully restore revenue sharing!

Maine AFL-CIO Opposes Bills to Weaken the Minimum Wage

Maine AFL-CIO urged lawmakers to reject several bills that would weaken the minimum wage on Monday. For years, thousands of hard working Mainers have struggled to get by on poverty wages, often relying on government assistance because their employers refused to pay them enough to afford rent, utilities, groceries and other necessities. That’s why in 2016 Mainers voted to gradually raise the minimum wage one dollar per year until it reaches $12 per hour by 2020 and automatically update it with cost of living increases each year thereafter. As a result, the law led to the fastest wage increase for low-income working Mainers in a decade, lifting 10,000 Maine children out of poverty, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP).

 The success of the law hasn’t stopped a small group of employers from pushing legislation that would allow them to undercut the minimum wage and go back to paying their workers’ poverty wages. Maine AFL-CIO opposes in the strongest terms measures that would create a subminimum wage for young adults (LD 612, LD 739 & LD 808).

“Having tiered wages ultimately results in exploitation. Paying young workers less than adult workers tends to undermine adult workers’ wages,” said Barney McClelland of Yarmouth, a retired IBEW member and Secretary of  the Southern Maine Labor Council.“Time would be better spent fixing problems with big box stores hiring low-wage workers with an expectation of using public resources to subsidize their low wages, rather than cutting wages for young workers.”

Maine AFL-CIO also opposed bills that would slash wages for employees at small businesses and in rural areas (LD 830 and 1098) because the law should not discriminate workers based on where they work. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who signed the law establishing a federal minimum wage, once said, “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” We agree and that’s why we urge our lawmakers to defeat these bills and uphold the will of the Maine people.

 Public Hearings Next Week

Below are the public hearings coming up in the State Legislature next week. Email us to let us know if you can attend or submit written testimony.

  • LD 1177, to make arbitration binding on economic issues in the public sector (Maine AFL-CIO Supports):  Monday March 25, 9 am, Labor & Housing Committee.
  • LD 1214, State Employee Compensation Study (Maine AFL-CIO Supports):  Monday March 25, 1:05 pm, Labor & Housing Committee
  • LD 1211, to allow agricultural workers to bargain collectively.  (Maine AFL-CIO Supports): Monday, March 25, 2019 9 am, Labor & Housing Committee
  • LD 902, to direct the state to conduct an independent assessment of the proposal to license certain mechanical trades. (Maine AFL-CIO Supports): Tuesday, March 26, 1 pm, Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee.
  • LD 904, to direct the state to conduct an independent assessment to review requirements for licensing heavy equipment operators. (Maine AFL-CIO Supports): Tuesday, March 26, 1 pm, Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee.
  • LD 128, to reopen Downeast Correctional Facility” (Maine AFL-CIO Supports): Wednesday, March 27, 9 am, Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Maine AFL-CIO is standing in solidarity with our public sector brothers and sisters in support of LD 1214, which would direct the state to conduct a comprehensive study of the compensation system for state employees. For several years, state employees have endured dramatic increases in their health insurance premiums, cuts to their retirement and stagnant wages. This has made it more difficult to attract and retain qualified workers who respond to emergency calls, protect children and adults with disabilities and clear the roads of snow. Please sign this petition calling on Governor Mills to value public services by offering competitive wages and rewarding career service.

 Tell Congress Not to Lock in High Drug Prices in NAFTA 2.0

The Trump administration’s revised version of NAFTA, which would lock in high U.S. prescription drug prices, could be headed for Congress soon. It’s critical that we prevent pharmaceutical companies from obtaining extended monopoly rights on their patented medications to block generic competition. Add your name to the #ReplaceNAFTA petition!  

Maine Working Class History FaceBook Page! 

Striking Shop 'N Save workers of AMBWNA, Local 385. March 17, 1971.

Did you know that…

  • Fishermen on Richmond Island, Maine held the first strike in North America over economic conditions in 1636?

  • The first recorded strike of women textile workers in Maine was at the York Manufacturing Company  on March 29, 1841?

  • The Portland Trades’ Union Assembly — which was comprised of coopers, bricklayers, house carpenters, painters, machinists, blacksmiths, longshoremen, molders and locomotive engineers — became the first central union in Maine in December, 1864?

From the first union organizing efforts and historic strikes to the 8-hour day movement and the fight to end child labor, the new Facebook page Maine Working Class History covers the whole history of the Maine labor movement along with photos, newspaper clippings and related documents. My friend Will Chapman, the archivist for the Bethel Historical Society, and I launched the page early this week and we’re super excited about all of the information we’ve gathered. We dedicate this effort to Charles Scontras, Maine's foremost authority on the state's labor history. Without Charlie's decades of researching and documenting this topic, a project like this could hardly have been attempted. — Andy O'Brien