Union Members Get Results!

IN THIS EDITION:

  • North Woods & Haulers Speak Out for the Right to Organize
  • Legislature Passes Improved Closure/Layoff Notice for Workers
  • Sign the “Fix NAFTA” Petition!
  • Next Week: Public Hearing on Responsible Contracting Bill
  • Celebrating International Workers’ Day

Loggers & Haulers Push for the Right to Organize

Senate President Troy Jackson holds a press conference with loggers, haulers and members of the Machinists Union.

A group of North Woods loggers and wood haulers made the long trip to Augusta on Monday to support a bill that would grant them the right to organize. The woods workers spoke in favor of LD 1459, which would allow loggers and wood haulers to form cooperatives and demand better wages and working conditions, in brave defiance of the large timber companies who threaten to blacklist workers for standing up for their rights.

“All we are asking for is fair wages and safe work conditions. Without the ability to band together, wealthy landowners have complete power over our livelihoods and our future. And they’ve used this to their advantage, exploiting us at every turn. Even today the landowners were taking down names of loggers who testified,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, the bill’s sponsor. “This bill is designed to try and give people the opportunity to not get crushed whenever they speak out or stand up for themselves. It’s designed to give loggers and haulers a voice in their own lives.”

Woods workers are currently prohibited under anti-trust laws from organizing, but potato farmers and lobster fishermen have been given exemptions to form their own cooperatives. Six other states – West Virginia, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and California – have forestry exemptions to protect loggers and wood haulers. The woods workers and the Machinists Union have already organized the New England Loggers Cooperative but they need LD 1459 to allow it to operate.

Currently, 95 percent of Maine’s forest is privately owned and 61 percent of it is owned by private companies. As a result, these large landowners are able to exert tremendous power over woods workers, dictating when and how much wood is cut, so loggers have no power to negotiate the price of their labor. In effect, this power imbalance has created a kind of feudal dynamic in the North Woods. Loggers and haulers at the hearing reported being forced to work extremely long hours and even being pressured to break the law by speeding and overloading trucks.

Josh Joshstone, a member of Machinists Local S6, said he was proud to stand with his brothers and sisters from the County and support their right to organize.

“Being part of a union and having a collective bargaining agreement gives me competitive wages, a pension, health care, job security, paid holidays and in my tenth year of service I receive four-plus weeks paid vacation to spend with my family,” said Johnston. “Being part of a union and having  collective a bargaining agreement also gives me representation to deter unfair labor practices.”

Sen. Jackson pointed to an alert that was sent out by the Maine Forest Product Council, which represents that landowners, accusing woods workers of being “entitled” just for wanting a fair share of the wealth they create.

“That right there is the mindset of the industry. If you get out of line, there’s something the matter with you. You’re entitled,” said Jackson. “When [corporate lobbyists] get up, ask them who it is that’s entitled, and if any of the guys behind me get a chance to actually speak, look in their faces and wonder if they’re entitled. If they’re entitled to want to see their kids. If they’re entitled to actually want to get a day off and not have to work 20 hours a day. Ask [the corporate lobbyists] if they think they’re entitled with their softs hands and their nice suits and all that.”

Rep. Mike Sylvester, the chairman of the Labor and Housing Committee, warned the landowners at the hearing that retaliating against workers for exercising their free speech is a violation of state and federal labor laws. The Labor and Housing Committee has scheduled a work session on this bill for Friday May 10.

Workers Testify for “Good Faith Offer of Sale” Bill

Workers also testified on Monday in support of LD 596, which would require companies permanently shutting down facilities to accept a good-faith offer of sale to an interested employee organization or other business. Greg Polk, a retired welder, pipefitter and union leader, recounted the devastation he witnessed living through three mill closures. Polk noted that workers lobbied the state to purchase the Juniper Ridge landfill for $26 million to help keep the Old Town Mill open. But when Georgia-Pacific shut down the Old Town Mill, it had no interest in selling to a competitor and it went as far as to drill holes holes in equipment to prevent another company from using it.

“Some may say that this bill is unfair to the companies because the government shouldn’t tell them what business decision to make,” said Polk. “Well, how about those millions of dollars in state, local and federal subsidies we gave them over the years? And what about the working people that kept the mill running and produce all of that wealth for them. The least these companies can do for their employees, the community and the taxpayers is to make a good-faith offer of sale.”

Polk said he also witnessed first-hand the struggles of the older, laid-off workers who faced age discrimination when seeking new employment. He noted that many of them are still working in their 70s because they lost their jobs at the mill.

Legislature Passes Bill to Give Employees Proper Notice of Layoffs

Pat Bureau, Robin Rice and Cindy Libby of CWA Local 1400 organized and lobbied legislators to support LD 201.

The Maine House voted 78-51 and the Senate voted 21-14  to support a bill that will ensure employees are given proper notice when a large employer closes, down-sizes or relocates a facility. LD 201 will extend the state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act to require Maine employers with over 100 employees to provide workers and communities with 90 days advance notice prior to closures, relocations or mass layoffs. Current law only requires 60 days notice. This is a big win for members of CWA Local 1400, who were up in Augusta all week lobbying legislators to support the bill

“With limited notification you really don’t have time to plan if you go to work and find out you only have 60 days  to find a new job. For my family and me that would be really difficult,” said Patrick Bureau of Westbrook, a call center employee and CWA Local 1400 member. “It would add a lot of comfort to know that I have an extra four weeks of paychecks if my company were to close. I want to thank our Senators and Representatives for supporting this important bill.”

The bill will soon head to the Governor’s desk for her signature.

Please Sign the “Fix NAFTA” Petition

The new NAFTA (also called the United States Mexico Canada Agreement or USMCA) isn’t much better than the old one. It doesn’t end outsourcing of good-paying American jobs to Mexico and other low-wage countries; it doesn’t require Mexico to enforce labor protections and it still retains monopoly rights for Big Pharma to continue ripping off patients. But it can still be fixed. The President is pushing hard to get a vote in Congress but we need it fixed first! You can read about the revised NAFTA proposal here  

TAKE ACTION: Help support Congressman Golden and Congresswoman Pingree to stand strong for “No Vote on NAFTA Until It’s Fixed”

Public Hearing on Responsible Contracting Bill on May 8

Next week, the Labor and Housing Committee will hold a public hearing on LD 1639, which would require contractors on publicly funded construction projects to pay livable wages with benefits and take proper safety measures. The hearing will be on Wednesday May 8, at 1pm in Room 206 of the Cross Building. Developed and championed by the Maine Building Trades, LD 1639 would ensure that workers on these projects participate in registered apprenticeship programs, have valid certifications and meet all the bonding requirements, including having general liability, workers comp. and unemployment insurance. When using public money, we should demand that the work be done by  responsible firms. Please contact your legislators and tell them to support LD 1639 to promote responsible contracting!

More Workers’ Compensation Reform Bills Next Week

The Labor and Housing Committee will also take up a third round of bills to make the workers’ compensation system more fair for people who have been injured on the job on Monday, May 6, at 9 am in Room 202 of the Cross Building in Augusta.

LD 1623 would make the employer/insurer responsible for the employee’s attorney fees when the the employee prevails in a dispute over medical expenses or when the employee prevails in a case decided by the Appellate Division or the Maine Law Court.

LD 1624  would overturn a court decision that requires an employee to show that workers’ comp. discrimination was the primary basis for the adverse action. The standard should be only that discrimination was “some” basis. Currently it is impossible to prove discrimination issues.

LD 1625 would eliminate the 10-year cap on the entitlement to partial benefits. Under current law, partial benefits are arbitrarily capped at 10 years – regardless of the injured workers’ age. Under the old system, an injured-worker could obtain partial benefits longer than 10 years if they had a partial impairment rating over 12%.

Happy International Workers’ Day!

Depiction of the Haymarket Riot from Harpers Magazine.

While the official “Labor Day” in the United States is celebrated in September, May 1, known as International Workers’ Day,  has long served as a day of international solidarity for labor activists around the world. The date was chosen to commemorate a series of massive strikes for the 8-hour day that began in May and culminated with the Haymarket Affair when police brutally suppressed strikers in Chicago on May 4, 1886. Seven union leaders were later charged with conspiracy and four were executed. But the Haymarket Affair also marked a turning point in labor relations and the eight-hour day was soon adopted to various industries before finally becoming the law of the land in 1937. 

May Day has been marked by labor actions and celebrations throughout Maine history. On May 1, 1890, Portland carpenters began a push for a nine-hour day. They packed up their tools and quit at 5 pm, after nine hours of working. They planned to do so again for the next two days, and vowed to strike the next week if they were not paid in full at the same daily rate they had been receiving. The Portland Daily Press noted that Portland brick and stone masons forced contractors to accept the nine-hour day system the previous day. — From Maine Working Class History.