From the Shop Floor to the Legislature

IN THIS EDITION:

  • Rep. Tina Riley (IBEW 1253): From the Shop Floor to the Legislature
  • SAPPI Westbrook Workers Win Pay Raises
  • National AFL-CIO Leader to Be Honored Sunday Aug. 18 in Maine
  • Plumbers & Pipefitters Welcome New Members
  • Labor History: When 2,000 Maine State Workers Staged A Walkout

Rep. Tina Riley: From the Shop Floor to the Legislature

Rep. Tina Riley (D-Jay)

IBEW 1253 member Tina Riley never had any desire to get involved in politics until she was recruited to run for the Maine Legislature in 2015. At the time, Rep. Paul Gilbert, a MSEA member and a staunch labor advocate, was prohibited from running again due to term limits and he needed a replacement. And as a fellow union member, Riley was the perfect fit for the working class rural district. 

“Paul and I would talk about labor issues and I frequently unloaded on him when I was irate about something going on at the policy level,” said Riley. “I didn’t realize that when I was writing those emails that he was considering them to be a like a job application, but apparently he was. So when he was termed out he came after me and several others. I didn’t exactly step forward. Everybody else stepped back.”

She knew it would be a challenging race. The district was traditionally a union stronghold, but it had been trending conservative in recent years due to a decline in union membership caused by union busting, layoffs and mill closures. But after taking the Emerge training for women candidates, Riley said she had the tools she needed to run her first successful campaign, which she narrowly won in 2016 by 57 votes.

Although she was initially hesitant to run for office, Riley says she found the experience rewarding once she got to Augusta. Riley was instrumental this session in requiring the utilization of registered apprenticeship programs on larger renewable energy projects as a way to build good jobs in the energy sector and blocking attempts to weaken electrical licensing standards.

“The state employees' union and the teachers' union are quite visible to the Legislature. They're focused on the kinds of jobs in which their members are engaged. Most people are less-aware of how trade unions operate,” said Riley. “Sometimes legislators would speak disparagingly of short-term construction jobs. They needed to hear that thousands of construction workers depend on those jobs to feed their families — and they did hear it. And it changed their thinking at times.”

Riley herself came into the union through an IBEW apprenticeship nearly 30 years ago and has worked as a maintenance mill electrician as well as run her own contracting firm with her husband, who is a union worker at the Rumford mill. For union members considering a run for office, she encourages them to take the Maine AFL-CIO Worker Candidate Training as well as meet with party leaders and local legislators to learn about the job.

“I think it's essential that we, as a Legislature, be extremely cost-conscious, but foremost, we need to consider the overall well-being of the people we serve,” said Riley. “Good jobs, with good pay and dignified treatment by our employers, is a critical piece of that overall well-being, and it is always the union voice that brings that perspective to the table.”

SAPPI Westbrook Workers Win Pay Raises in New Contract

Members of three unions at the SAPPI paper mill in Westbrook each voted last week to ratify three-year contracts that include meaningful pay raises and better benefits. The new contracts were approved by members of IBEW Local 2233, Machinists’ Union (IAM) Local 2287, and Firemen and Oilers (IBFO) Local 3 and include wage increases of 3 percent in the first year, 2.25 percent in the second year and 2.5 percent in the third year. The contract also includes an additional one dollar contribution to the pension as well as improvements to disability insurance and vacations.

“I feel really good about this contract. We got a good raise, improved pensions and benefits for new hires and rehires,” said Jim Marshall, President of IBEW Local 2233. “I’ve been president of this local since 1986 and this one is one of the best ones we’ve negotiated. Both sides acted professionally and the process went really smoothly.”

Plumbers & Pipefitters Welcome New Members

Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 716 welcomed 18 new members into the union during a ceremony last week. Of the 18 initiated, 12 are apprentices.  Organizer Beau Libby said he believes it is the largest new group of members ever. Welcome brothers and sisters!

National AFL-CIO Leader to Be Honored at Frances Perkins Center

Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer/CFO

Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer and chief financial officer of the national AFL-CIO, will be in Maine on Sunday August 18 to receive an award for her commitment to social justice and economic security. The Francis Perkins Center’s Intelligence & Courage Award will be presented at the organization’s annual Garden Party to celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act and the continuing legacy of Perkins’ work for labor rights.

The event will be held on Sunday, August 18 at 2 pm in Newcastle. Guests will be shuttled from downtown Newcastle in a trolley to the Perkins Homestead where refreshments and snacks will be served. Please register online here or email [email protected].

When Over 2,000 State Workers Staged An "Illegal" Walkout

Maine and US labor history is filled with countless examples of workers striking to challenge workplace injustice, even when they do not have the legal right to strike. In light of recent, ongoing activity seeking to win the right to strike in the public sector in Maine, we wanted to share some of this Maine history.

While it’s currently illegal for public sector employees to strike, sometimes workers need to strike and defy the law -- or better put follow the law of justice -- when they are being treated unfairly. That’s just what over 2,000 Maine state employees did on April 24, 1979 after Republicans blocked passage of a pay raise for state workers. The GOP opposed the bill because it contained a “fair share” provision requiring non-union members to contribute to the cost of collective bargaining and they were not backing down. 

At first, Maine State Employees Association (MSEA) officials urged caution, but were forced to withdraw their previous position due to “some of the more militant members,” who demanded action, according to the Bangor Daily News.

It’s now impossible to encourage state employees to follow the law while a small number of legislators are flaunting the collective bargaining law,” said MSEA President Paul Magnussen. "MSEA cannot and will not encourage state employees to remain calm any longer.”

Shortly after the contract was voted down, workers all over the state walked off the job at 3pm, forcing liquor stores and welfare offices to close and halting highway projects. Among the 2100 striking workers were 990 Department of Transportation workers, 400 Human Services employees, 120 employees of the Department of Health and Corrections, 462 Manpower Affairs workers, and 30 state liquor store workers. Picketers also blocked the entrances to the State House, the State Office Building, the Department of Human Services and even state ferry service in Rockland.

Governor Joseph Brennan quickly requested a court injunction to stop the illegal strike and state workers went back to work the next day. Then a few weeks later, after the Republican-controlled Senate defeated the contract bill, Senate Majority Leader Bennett D. Katz of Augusta took out a restraining order against a group of committed state workers who picketed his jewelry store for opposing the measure. One MSEA remarked to the Kennebec Journal that the court action held "that property rights are more important than freedom of speech."

MSEA eventually agreed to a partial union security clause after being “confronted by growing unrest in its own ranks and by an unyielding Republican opposition in the Senate,” writes Maine labor historian Charlie Scontras.  


Source: “Maine Labor in the Age of Deindustrialization and Global Market,” Charlie Scontras