Transit Workers Unionize / PRO Act tour / Contract prep

IN THIS EDITION:

  • Organizing Wave Continues — Biddeford Saco O.O.B. Transit Workers Form Union
  • Machinist Member Doug Hall Kicks Off PRO Act Tour Across Maine
  • Maine Med Nurses Have Formed a Union - Now the Hard Work Begins
  • The PRO-Labor Legislative Round-up
  • Maine Service Employees Association Hiring for Field Rep
  • When Maine Workers Launched the First Independent Labor Media Outlets

Thirty two transit drivers, mechanics and other staff at Biddeford Saco Old Orchard Beach Transit (BSOOB Transit) have formed a union with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 714 and will soon be negotiating their first contract.

“Drivers here are woefully underpaid and that was one of the main reasons for workers wanting to organize a union,” said ATU member Joe Gaudette, who is a part-time BSOOB Transit driver. “Now that we’re officially a union we urge BSOOB Transit to work with us to reach a fair contract that appropriately compensates employees for the valuable service we provide to the community.”

BSOOB Transit is the primary provider of public transportation in the Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach region with express commuter bus service that connects the Tri-Town area to downtown Portland and seasonal trolleys that serve tourist destinations in the area. ATU 714 also represents transit workers at the Community Connector in Bangor, the Greater Portland Metro bus line and the Regional Transportation Program in Portland. The successful union election comes on the heals of two major union election victories at Portland Museum of Art and Maine Medical Center.

Machinist Member Doug Hall Kicks Off PRO Act Tour Across Maine 

Doug Hall.

This summer, Bath Iron Works shipbuilder and IAM S6 member, Doug Hall is  working with a team at the Maine AFL-CIO pounding the pavement, making phone calls, texting and meeting hundreds of union members across the state to educate them about the PRO Act — the strongest piece of pro-labor legislation since the New Deal. The PRO Act would strengthen labor protections, crack down on worker misclassification and fine employers that try to prevent employees from forming unions. 

Hall has given presentations at Central Labor Councils and at union meetings and intends to begin leafletting union members at worksites to urge them to contact our Senators about this critical piece of legislation.

“We have our work cut out for us because a lot of members I’ve spoken to have never heard of the PRO Act,” said Hall. “It’s been eye opening for a lot of these workers to see how bad labor laws really are. I don’t see how any union member could oppose this bill. It’s really not a partisan issue. It’s basically written by labor and for labor.” 

During his presentations, Hall has highlighted how the PRO Act would prevent the kind of egregious union busting tactics we’ve seen used against workers right here in Maine. For instance, it would prohibit employer interference in union elections like we saw recently during union drives at Portland Museum of Art and Maine Medical Center as well as at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. It would also make it illegal for companies to fire and permanently replace striking workers like the company did during the International Paper Strike of 1987 in Jay.  

“There hasn’t been a major paper strike in Maine since Jay,” said Hall. “When the company fired and replaced those workers it really put the hammer down on all paper workers. If the PRO Act passes it would be a God send to workers in Maine.” 

If you would like Doug to come and talk to your union about the PRO Act, email him at [email protected] or [email protected].

Maine Med Nurses Have Formed a Union - Now the Hard Work Begins

EMMC nurses hold a placard signed by a majority of nurses in the facility listing their bargaining priorities and in 2018.


Earlier this spring, nurses at Maine Medical Center celebrated a historic union election victory, but now they must organize to win their first contract. Winning a first contract is often even harder than winning a union election as it takes a lot of organizing, communication, engaging with rank-and-file members and occasionally taking direct action.  

“Bargaining is not a spectator sport,” said Cokie Giles, President of the Maine State Nurses Association. “It’s a much more dynamic process where inch by inch, mile by mile, information flows between the bargaining table and rank and file members. Often members have to take action to help push management in the right direction in terms of agreeing to their priorities. You don’t just put bargain proposals in the hands of the bargaining team and then talk to them next month when the deal is done.” 

Prior to their unionization vote, nurses at MMC began circulating a bargaining survey among their coworkers to list their priorities for their contract. At some point soon, nurses will elect their bargaining team with members representing specific sections of the hospital. Once bargaining begins, the union bargaining team will present their proposals to improve patient care and their own pay, benefits and working conditions. 

If management does not respond positively to the improvements the nurses propose, the members then may decide to escalate their demands. Nurses and other union members have been known to circulate petitions that address their key issues or bring rank and file members to the bargaining table to speak to management about why their proposals are important for worker and patient safety, and/or for their families and the community.  

Veteran organizers and negotiators say that the best union contracts aren’t bargained in a room between a small group of people. They are bargained in the workplace and in the streets, when the members are willing to fight for their bargaining priorities. So if management won’t move on the improvements proposed at the bargaining table, the nurses will have a number of options at their disposal, such as escalating their demands in public for improvements at Maine Med or possibly once again enlisting the support of the local community that helped the nurses win their election campaign this spring.  

“It’s incredibly effective for management to know that rank and file members and community members are involved in the bargaining process," said Giles. "And it’s critical to have large groups of members show up from time to time so management can see a physical representation of what the demands are." 

Maine Med nurses are hopeful they will be at the bargaining table by sometime this summer or fall. 

Senate Passes Bills to Strengthen Collective Bargaining Rights & More

Binding Arbitration (LD 677): The Maine Senate voted 19-13 on Wednesday to pass LD 677, which would encourage good-faith negotiations in public sector collective bargaining by making the arbitration process binding on economic issues. Currently, if the two 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. As a result, even after an arbitration, public employers can simply impose their original offer on workers. LD 677 would make the arbitration process binding on economic issues like wages, insurance and retirement. It faces further votes in the House and Senate.

Disability retirement (LD 1644): The Maine House and Senate unanimously passed LD 1644, which would correct some major injustices in the disability retirement system for public employees as too often when public sector workers become disabled they are denied benefits for no clear reason. They then rack up legal fees and go without pay for months or even years as they await appeals. The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate.

Affordable Housing with Labor Standards (LD 1656): LD 1656 was passed 80-63 in the House. This bill addresses Maine's affordable housing crisis by allocating funds to build more affordable housing with the construction done under a project labor agreement. It will now move to the Senate for a vote.

Bills with Upcoming Votes

  • LD 1564 - This bill to fix the State's Unemployment system and establish unemployment navigators will have a vote in the coming days. 
  • LD 1231 - This bill to apply labor standards and create high quality jobs on clean energy projects will have a vote in the coming days. 

MSEA-SEIU 1989 Seeking Union Field Representative

Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, is seeking to hire an experienced Union Representative to serve its affiliated local unions. Duties include enforcing employee rights and interests under collective bargaining agreements; investigating and analyzing facts, preparing witnesses and case presentations, representing employees in investigatory meetings, disciplinary meetings, grievance meetings and at mediation and arbitration; leading workers in contract negotiations and impact bargaining with public and private sector employers and more. Click here to learn more and to apply!

When Maine Workers Launched the First Independent Labor Media Outlets

Since the US labor movement emerged in the 1820s, there has always been tension between workers and the mainstream press when it comes to coverage of working class issues and labor struggles. After all, large news outlets are typically owned by wealthy individuals and corporations, so it’s not surprising that editorial decisions about what issues to cover and how to cover them is often colored by the interests of the owners. 

A major reason Maine workers founded the first labor newspapers in the 1830s was to counter the attacks from other partisan newspapers. The major newspapers at the time viewed these new labor activists as "workies", "rabble", "levelers," and “dirty-shirt parties.” Take this colorful 1829 screed from the New York Commercial Advertiser about the early labor parties.

“Lost to society, to earth and to heaven, godless and hopeless, clothed and fed by stealing and blasphemy — such are the apostles who are trying to induce a number of able-bodied men in this city to follow in their course … to disturb the peace of the community for a time; go to prison and have the mark of Cain imposed upon them; betake themselves to incest, robbery and murder; die like ravenous wild beasts, hunted down without pity; and go to render their account before a God, whose existence they believed in their miserable hearts, even while they were blaspheming him in their ignorant, sniveling and puerile speculations. Such is too true a picture, in all parts, of some of the leaders of the new political party which is emerging from the slime of this community and which is more beastly and terrible than the Egyptian Typhoon.”

In Portland, Maine others cried, "Who are they!!! …nothing but 'broken merchants and common grocers!!! Not a well dressed man among them, the rag-tag and bobtails of society,’” according to the Eastern Argus in 1832.

Knowing their positions would never get the respect they deserved in existing media outlets, Portland artisans and mechanics founded Maine’s first labor newspaper, The Maine Working Men’s Advocate, in 1830. The publisher promised that the paper would be a voice for “that portion of the People, whose bodily labour and active industry are the support and strength of the community, against those who live upon their necessities and profit by their misfortunes.”

The Maine Working Men's Advocate was followed by numerous other pro-labor publications, including the Augusta Courier and Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Journal (1831), Mechanic and Farmer in Bangor (1835), The Workingman and People’s Press in Norridgewock (1841) and others. In many ways, today’s local pro-labor media outlets like the Maine BeaconPine and Roses and  this newsletter have their roots in those early labor newspapers.