Union Jobs Coming | Support for Bates workers & more

IN THIS EDITION:

  • Congress Passes Historic Investment in Infrastructure & Jobs
  • WMLC President Calls on Collins to Support Build Back Better
  • United Farmworkers Co-Founder Dolores Huerta Supports Bates Workers
  • New Report Recommends Policies to Support & Empower Workers
  • Update on Federal Vaccine & Testing Rules
  • When Mainers Went on Strike for More Free Time

Congress Passes Historic Investment in Infrastructure 

On Monday, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which marks the biggest investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure since President Dwight Eisenhower established the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. 

“Today’s final passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a monumental political and legislative accomplishment,” said Maine AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler in a statement last week. “After decades of delay and decline, America’s workers stand ready to rebuild our country. This $1 trillion investment in roads, bridges, transit, rail, climate change mitigation, electric vehicles, clean drinking water, high-speed internet, resilient transmission lines and more is centered around the creation of good union jobs.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will provide:

  • $110 billion to rebuild 173,000 miles of roads and 45,000 bridges
  • $66 billion in funding to upgrade America’s rail service
  • $65 billion to improve the resiliency of our power grid
  • $65 billion to expand broadband internet access, particularly in rural areas
  • $55 billion to make sure Americans have access to safe and clean water, including $15 billion to replace lead pipes
  • $42 billion for port and airport repairs
  • $39 billion for public transit to keep workers moving
  • $21 billion in environmental remediation to clean up Superfund and brownfield sites in hard-hit energy communities
  • $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and $5 billion for electric and hybrid school buses

The vast majority of expenditures are subject to prevailing wage laws, ensuring that skilled, local, often union workers, earn fair wages with good benefits for their hard work. This is big win for union workers, but our fight isn’t over. Congress must now pass the Build Back Better Act to bolster America’s human infrastructure and support the essential workers who have kept our country running through the pandemic. 

Please fill out this form to ask your member of Congress to SUPPORT the Build Back Better Act!

WMLC President Joins Poor People’s Campaign in Calling on Sen. Collins to Support Build Back Better Bill

Last Wednesday, Linda Deane, retired millwright (USW 900) and President of the Western Maine Labor Council, joined the Poor People’s Campaign at Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office to call on on Collins to support the Build Back Better Act. Deane noted the bill would finally enforce labor laws by having meaningful penalties in place for corporations committing unfair labor practices against workers forming unions. 

“Like the rest of the country Maine has seen a wave of union organizing among employees at Maine Medical Center, Portland Museum of Art, nonprofits and right now Bates College. But it is not easy for people to organize — the laws are stacked against them,” said Deane. "Workers are subjected to mandatory meetings, misclassification, and other activities considered unfair labor practices. However, employers found guilty of these violations are merely told to cease and desist, which creates an incentive to violate workers' rights. This bill will increase these penalties from the current slap on the wrist to $50,000 - $100,000. This will force more employers to follow the rules.”

The Poor People’s Campaign draws its inspiration from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original “Poor People’s Campaign,” which called for a “revolution of values” in America and sought to build a broad, multi-racial movement that could unite poor and working class communities across the country.

Labor Leader Dolores Huerta Supports Bates Workers

Labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta is backing the educators and staff at Bates College who are trying to form a union. The 91-year old United Farmworkers co-founder, who received a honorary degree from Bates in 2019, reached out to the workers in late October to send her encouragement and support.

“As a recipient of an Honorary Degree in 2019, I had an opportunity to visit Bates and hear from college President Clayton Spencer about an education grounded in solidarity, wrote Huerta. “As employees, you teach, feed, house and create the support and solidarity that the students need in order to thrive. You have a huge responsibility in helping these students to be successful in the future. What you do every day is of great value, and I commend you for your commitment and hard work.”

Huerta criticized the college for carrying out an anti-union campaign using threats and intimidation. She stressed that the workers have a right to to form a union and bargain over wages, benefits, and working conditions with the college. 

“I am disappointed to hear that Bates College administration has chosen not to remain neutral and has strayed from the values they presented to me at the 2019 convocation but know that this should not deter you,” she wrote. “Look to each other for support and solidarity as you build your union. Forming a union is about having a voice, it is a part of creating a balance of power at work and building democracy in our society. I want you all to know that together we can make a difference, and we should never give up on that, and we should never doubt ourselves that we can change things and make them better in our world. Si se puede!”

New Report Details Impact of Pandemic on Working People, Calls on Policy Makers to Support & Empower Workers

The Maine Center for Economic Policy has just released its 2021 State of Working Maine report, which examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working Mainers and offers recommendations of how to improve working conditions and create a fairer economic system. 

The report found that 1 in 4 Maine adults during the pandemic were unable to meet their weekly household expenses during the pandemic while 25,000 Mainers were out of work due to a lack of child care as of August 2021. MECEP’s recommendations for state policy makers to address these problems include:

  • Implement a livable minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2025
  • Reform scheduling practices through “fair workweek” laws
  • Institute a statewide paid family leave program and establish a system of publicly subsidized child care
  • Invest in programs to facilitate hiring people of color and immigrants, who still face discrimination in Maine’s labor market Enforce existing anti-discrimination laws

Speaking at a press conference last week, Suzy Young of the Maine AFL-CIO’s Unemployment Assistance Group praised the report’s recommendations, noting that she has seen first-hand the barriers many working parents face in re-entering the workforce, such as a lack of affordable child care.

“This pandemic has made it clear that we must invest in programs to support working parents,” said Young. “The ideas outlined in this report — including the implementation of a statewide paid family and leave law, publicly funded child care and a “fair workweek” law to ensure employers accommodate the schedules of working parents — are steps in the right direction.”

She added that its “become clear” that we don’t have “a labor crisis,” but rather a “wage crisis.”

“People want to work, but need their wages to keep up with the cost of living,” said Young. “With housing, food and gas prices going up, a $15 minimum wage should be the floor for jobs in Maine.”

Update on Federal Vaccine & Testing Rules

Last week the White House issued a new federal rule that private companies with more than 100 employees must mandate that workers either get their coronavirus vaccinations or do regular weekly testing by January 4, 2022. Under the rule, which is currently being challenged in a federal appeals court, employees in impacted workplaces can choose not to be vaccinated, but unvaccinated workers must be subject to weekly testing and mandatory face-masking.

The rule specifies that employers must provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated or recover from any side effects. But companies are able to require unvaccinated employees to foot the bill for tests. The Biden administration has also issued a mandate requiring that federal contractor employees, such as Bath Iron Works shipbuilders must have their final vaccination doses by January 4, 2022. That rule does not allow the option for unvaccinated workers to be tested for COVID-19 each week, but they can request a medical or religious exemption to the mandate. 

Health care workers and emergency responders — such as fire fighters, paramedics, nursing home workers and nurses — must be vaccinated under a separate state vaccine mandate.

For nearly 120 years, courts have repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of vaccine mandates to protect the health of the public. Most recently, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal from Maine health care workers to block the state vaccine mandate that went into effect in October.

The Maine AFL-CIO encourages workers to get vaccinated. We know these vaccines are safe and effective as over 420 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the US and have been evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. We urge all workers to get vaccinated to protect their coworkers and others from this potentially deadly virus.

It is also critical that workers have a voice in how these policies are implemented so that those with legitimate medical exemptions are given accommodations, that workers are provided paid time off to recover from potential vaccine side effects, that the employer foots the bill for testing and that there is a contingency plan to fill unionized positions that become vacant due to workers not complying with the mandate.

When Workers in Kennebunk, Biddeford & Portland Went on Strike for Shorter Work Days

In 1848, the Maine Legislature finally responded to petitions from thousands of workers and passed a day instituting a 10-work day. But unfortunately, the law was so riddled with loopholes that you could drive a locomotive through it. Specifically, it allowed employers to force workers to sign away their right to a shorter workday as a condition of their employment. What followed was a series of strikes from the shipyards of Kennebunk, Biddeford and Bath to the Portland Company on Fore Street in Portland to force employers to honor the spirit of the law. 

As we wrote in last month’s Radical Mainers, a young Kennebunk ship fastener spearheaded the 10-hour-day movement at the Landing.

“Hearing the discussions going on around him by the carpenters and thinking that action was better than words, he formed a plan which he thought would be successful,” wrote historian Annie Peabody Brooks. “He was fearful, as many others were, of a discharge or something worse, for one of these contractors had been interviewed and had in a most decided manner … intimated that the ten-hour system met his views exactly, but it should be ten hours in the forenoon and ten hours in the afternoon.”

The young fastener put up notices around town advertising a meeting at the old brick school house for workers to discuss the 10-hour question. 

All but a few “who would rather work fifteen hours than incur their employer’s displeasure” signed a resolution pledging to work “under no other system but that called the ten-hour system.” A committee of workers then presented the resolution to shipyard owner James Titcomb, who promptly agreed to their demand. 

The organizing was contagious. In 1854, Biddeford workers finally won a 10-hour day when the Perkins brothers set the standard for the city by agreeing to their shipyard workers’ demands. Read the full story here!

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