Union Women Lead

IN THIS EDITION:

  • Fire Fighters Propose Bill to Support First Responders Who Contract Job-related Cancers
  • EMMC Nurse Discusses Needs of Health Care Workers & Patients with First Lady & First Gentleman
  • Union Members Learn How the PRO ACT Will Help Rebuild the Labor Movement 
  • Workers Turn Out to Oppose Union Busting Right to Work for Less Bill
  • Presentation on the First Women-Led Strike in Maine — Feb. 27
  • Upcoming Winter Institute Events

Fire Fighters Testify for Bill to Support First Responders Who Contract Job-Related Cancers

Women in the Fire Service Committee of the Professional Firefighters of Maine

On Wednesday, first responders testified in support of a bill that would provide more protections under the workers' compensation system for fire fighters who contract reproductive cancers due to their employment. LD 213, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth), would provide what is known as a “rebuttable presumption," which means that if a firefighter contracts a gynecologic cancer, it likely happened as a result of their employment for purposes of qualifying for workers comp, unless proven otherwise.

The idea for the bill came from the Women in the Fire Service Committee of the Professional Firefighters of Maine. Committee Chair Caroline St. Pierre, who is a Portland firefighter and member of IAFF 740, discovered that while current law provides a rebuttable presumption for ten different types of cancers, including testicular cancer, women’s reproductive cancers like uterine and cervical cancers are not considered job related illnesses.

“In our job, men and women do the same tasks. A fire doesn't care what gender you are. It is important that men and women in this job have the same protection," said St. Pierre. "Everyday more women are becoming firefighters. Our job poses many risks with cancer being one of the biggest."

MSNA Nurse Discusses Needs of Health Care Workers & Patients with First Lady & First Gentleman

Last week, Maine State Nurses Association member Kara Calor (right), a registered nurse in a surgical unit at Eastern Maine Medical Center, joined union nurses from across the country on a call with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and “First Gentleman” Doug Emhoff to provide input about what health care workers need to treat the COVID-19 pandemic. Calor told Dr. Biden and Emhoff that while EMMC has been doing an “amazing job” vaccinating patients and staff, like most health care facilities, there aren’t nearly enough vaccines for elderly and high risk populations. 

“One of my biggest concerns is our ability to get vulnerable populations vaccinated,” she said. "As the oldest state in the nation, that should be a major priority.”

Calor also mentioned the tremendous stress that doctors, nurses and CNAs are under right now and urged the Biden Administration to also prioritize mental health treatment for health care workers who need it. After the call, Calor said that what struck her most about the meeting was that the Biden Administration specifically sought input from union nurses because they not only value their expertise, but they also understand the value of unions. 

“I’m not just offering my input as a nurse from Maine. I’m standing here as a nurse from Maine with a union of over 170,000 members behind me,” she said. “This is an example of what it means to be in a union. Together you are stronger.”

Union Members Learn How the PRO ACT Will Help Rebuild the Labor Movement 

On Wednesday, more than 30 union members from across Maine attended a briefing where they learned about how the PRO Act, which is being considered by Congress, will drastically improve the environment for labor organizing and help to rebuild the labor movement after 70 years of attacks from corporate interests. Bill Samuel of the National AFL-CIO gave a thorough presentation about the bill. The PRO Act will:

  • Eliminate state right-to-work for less laws
  • Speed up union elections
  • Fine companies that engage in union busting and ban captive audience meetings
  • Award workers’ monetary compensation for damages when they are retaliated against for organizing
  • Crack down on worker misclassification 
  • Force employers to bargain in good faith in contract negotiations and create a process to secure a first contract
  • Repeal the prohibition on secondary boycotts & sympathy strikes
  • Prohibit employers from permanently replacing strikers.

This is by far the strongest piece of pro-labor legislation in 40 years and it would prevent so much of the union busting we’ve recently seen during organizing campaigns at Maine Medical Center, Portland Museum of Art, Hospice of Southern Maine and at the Amazon warehouse in Alabama. We are pleased that Congressman Jared Golden and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree have co-sponsored the PRO Act. We encourage you to contact Senators Angus King and Susan Collins and ask them to also support this important bill!

Workers Turn Out to Oppose Union Busting Right to Work for Less Bill

USW member Linda Deane speaks out against "right to work for less" bill.

Maine union members turned out in force Wednesday to oppose a union busting “right to work for less” bill that would drive down wages for working Mainers and undercut unions' ability to stand up for workers. The Labor and Housing Committee is considering LD 97, sponsored by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor), which seeks to weaken the ability of working Mainers to band together to improve their wages, benefits, workplace safety and working conditions.

“‘Right to work' laws seek to erode the voice of the employee by financially constraining their representative bargaining units,” said Rick Cailler, President of the Lewiston Firefighters Association (IAFF 785). “The legislation under consideration is built upon the tenant of divide and conquer. It is unrealistic to assume that without the protections of labor organizations and organizing in general that any one employee stands a fighting chance.”

Right to work laws originated in the South and were pushed by white supremacist groups that sought to weaken unions and preserve the Jim Crow South. Supporters feared that if unions could unite black and white workers they could undo the racially segregated political economy and political order of the South. The term “right-to-work” was popularized in 1936 by business lobbyist and open white supremacist Vance Muse, who once claimed that without these destructive anti-union laws “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call brother or lose their jobs.” 

“Today’s proponents of right to work bills may use a less offensive language to sell their agenda, but the result is the same - to weaken the collective voices of working people and keep wages and benefits at a minimum while giving corporations higher profit margins,”said Linda Deane, retired papermaker and United Steelworkers 900 member. “With union favorability at an all-time high in the US — and more workers organizing and joining unions in Maine and around the country  — legislation should be passed to help level the playing field of workers organizing, not hinder them as LD 97 seeks to do.”

Presentation on the First Women-Led Strike in Maine 

Did you know that the first recorded strike led by Maine women was back in 1841? Nearly 500 female textile workers walked off the job at Saco’s York Manufacturing Company and paraded up Main Street, chanting and singing. They gathered in a local church, formed a committee, and sent the factory owner a document articulating their complaints about wages, housing, and paternalistic rules.

Dr. Elizabeth DeWolfe, a Professor of History at the University of New England, will be giving a lecture about this important moment in Maine labor history on Saturday, February 27 at 1:30pm on Zoom. In this illustrated talk, sponsored by Spirits Alive at the Eastern Cemetery, Dr. DeWolfe will discuss the life of New England “factory girls,” and the connection to national agitation for women’s rights, including suffrage.

Click here to register to attend this fascinating lecture! And check out Dr. DeWolfe’s piece in Maine Women Magazine about the strike.

Upcoming Winter Institute Events

Thursday, February  18, 6:30pm - 8:30pm — Organizing & Winning in the Time of COVID: In November's election, Portland passed an unprecedented series of referenda that advanced the conditions of workers, tenants, and unions in the city, despite being outspent 25-1. Organizers with the People's First Portland campaign discuss how they organized for these victories, how they worked in coalition across organizations, and the methods they used to counter the corporate opposition. Click here to register and receive the Zoom link!

Thursday February 25, 2021 – 5pm - 6:30pm — Medicare for All... How do we pay for it? s Skyrocketing healthcare costs are squeezing all of our unions at the bargaining table. Health care for all sounds great...But how do we pay for it? Join us to see how this can work and become our health care reality. We’ll have a presentation by Katherine Isaac — Executive Director of Debs-Jones-Douglas Institute and member of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer committee — followed by Q&A and discussion. Click here to register and receive a Zoom link!