Labor Update: Victories & Disappointments


  • Legislature Adjourns, Mills Vetoes Priority Labor Bills
  • Calais Nurses Joined by USW, MSEA & Fireman & Oilers Members at Picket
  • Calais Techs Votes Unanimously to Unionize
  • Remembering the Jay Strike

Legislature Adjourns, Mills Vetoes Priority Labor Bills

Firefighters Darren McGovern, Andrew Rioux & Trent Beaule lobbying legislators.

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the Maine Legislature adjourned, marking the end of a session that saw some important labor victories and several significant disappointments. On the plus side, workers organized, educated legislators and won victories that will allow woods workers to collectively bargain (LD 1459), provide earned time off for 139,000 Maine workers (LD 369), create good union jobs in the renewable energy sector (LD 1282), provide retirement security for emergency dispatchers (LD 1395), and improve public transportation and safety (LD 458).

Firefighters and first responders improved their retiree healthcare (LD 1664, LD 1674); the building trades passed multiple bills to raise standards in the construction industry (LD 904, LD 1564 and several others currently on the Governor's desk). We improved unemployment insurance (LD 75), raised standards for utility mergers and sales (LD 1560) and engaged the legislative process to improve staffing at the state's biggest utility.

Governor Janet Mills also vetoed two of our priority bills that would have strengthened collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. LD 1177 would have fixed the power imbalance between management and public sector workers by making arbitration binding on wages, insurance and retirement. Unfortunately, we were unable to garner enough votes in the Senate to override the veto. Click here to see how your legislators voted on LD 1177.

Governor Mills also vetoed LD 240, which would have given teachers the right to negotiate over planning and preparation time. Under current law, educators cannot negotiate anything related to educational policy, which unjustly limits negotiations to a few items related to wages and working conditions. Click here to see how your legislators voted on LD 240.

On other priorities we had some mixed results. The recently passed biennial budget increases municipal revenue sharing from 2.5 percent to 3 percent this year and 3.75 percent the following year, which will help cities and towns pay for important services like public safety and prevent property taxes from going up. However, revenue sharing was previously scheduled to automatically rise to 5 percent in July, so while municipalities will be getting more money, we could have done better.

The Maine House also narrowly voted down a bill to restore a tax on estates worth over $2 million, which was repealed in 2011. Click here to see how your legislator voted on that bill. We also made the first benefit improvements to the workers compensation system in nearly 30 years, but the compromise bill should have done more for injured workers.

A number of new laws will strengthen the ability of workers to organize and build power.  With LD 1459, loggers and haulers will finally be able to collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions. A new card check law for municipal workers and another law to allow public sector unions to gain access to new hires will make it much easier to organize public employees. Overall, we made meaningful progress in Augusta, but only through more workplace organizing can we grow the power we need to rebuild the labor movement and win bigger victories for working people. As the old labor slogan goes, “Don’t mourn. Organize!”

Calais Nurses Joined by USW, MSEA & Firemen & Oilers Members at Picket

Nurses and Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLSs) held an informational picket on Monday at Calais Regional Hospital (CRH) in Calais. They were joined by newly organized members of the CRH technical unit as well as members of the United Steelworkers, Firemen and Oilers, and the Maine State Employees Association (SEIU 1989).

The RNs and MLSs are protesting the concessionary demands that CRH is making at the bargaining table, after learning that CRH is having its best financial year in a decade. If these cutbacks are implemented, they could jeopardize the quality of patient care at CRH by making it difficult to recruit new employees or retain experienced ones. Current employees say more than two dozen positions remain unfilled across CRH.

CRH has already imposed benefit reductions on the nonunion staff, and is now trying to force the same concessions on hospital employees represented by MSNA/NNOC, which include RNs and MLSs. Workers have been in negotiations with the hospital since last September for a new contract.

“The hospital is trying to insist on a roughly $1,700 cut in the cash value of our compensation, per employee, per year,” said Sarah Curtis, a nurse at CRH. “And that doesn’t even count the fact they want to rip our current health insurance protections right out of our contract.”

“People are leaving this place left and right,” said Trudy Gillespie another nurse at CRH. “They can’t fill the positions that are being left open. Our community depends on this hospital and we’re doing our best to stick it out and continue to provide the best care for all of our patients. But ultimately, if there’s no one left to work here, there is no hospital.” (From the National Nurses Organizing Committee)

Calais Techs Vote Unanimously to Unionize with Maine State Nurses

Calais techs.

In light of management’s continuing attacks on employees’ working conditions, technical employees at Calais Regional Hospital voted unanimously to unionize with the Maine State Nurses Association/National Nurses United on Friday, June 14 so that they could take collective action with their coworkers to improve standards at CRH.

“We’ve watched how the union nurses and medical scientists have stood up for themselves and really for all of us,” said Mindy Smith, a radiology technologist at CRH and one of the employees who just voted to unionize. “We wanted to have that same kind of voice at work. We are so proud to now be a part of this union with our RN and Medical Labor Scientist sisters and brothers, and to have the power to stand up for ourselves, our patients and our community, just like they do.” (From the National Nurses Organizing Committee)

Maine Sees Highest Drop in Child Poverty Due to Minimum Wage

Remember when the Maine AFL-CIO and other unions teamed up with progressive allies to raise wages through the referendum process in 2016?  The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Maine has climbed to ninth place in the national rankings for child health and well being, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book. Claire Berkowitz of the Maine Children’s Alliance told Maine Public that Maine has seen the steepest decline in child poverty in the country due to the increase in the minimum wage, which rose to $11 per hour in January and will automatically rise to $12 next year due to a 2016 referendum supported by the Maine AFL-CIO.

“We saw a steep decline in child poverty between 2016 and 2017, going from 17 percent in 2016 to 13 percent in 2017,” she added.

separate report by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found the minimum wage increase lifted 10,000 Maine children out of poverty in 2017.

The 32nd Anniversary of the Jay International Paper Strike

Union picketers at the Jay strike. Photo: Lewiston Sun Journal.

32 years years ago this week workers at the Androscoggin mill in Jay went out on strike out to protest a series of concessionary demands by the International Paper Company. The company’s demands included the elimination of the Christmas shutdown and double time on Sundays as well as 350 union jobs by subcontracting union work and 170 jobs through a program called “Project Productivity.”

While an unprecedented number of workers and supporters took part in the strike, IP permanently replaced the 2,100 striking workers and the national union eventually called off the strike on October 10, 1988 after it dragged on for 16 months. It was an extremely painful moment in Maine history, but IP’s actions were part of a broader business assault on unions spurred on by President Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire striking air traffic controllers in 1981.

“If I were to leave a legacy for working people it would be this,” striking worker Ray Pineau said later in the book "Pain on Their Faces." “You are the builder, the driver, the painter and butcher, the finisher, etc., and your efforts are what makes this country grand. Your children will feed the hungry, care for the infirm, build the future. You are a tradesperson, either an apprentice, a journeyman or a master. Don’t let your skills and efforts go unrewarded. Unite in your trade for better pay, benefits and working conditions. Don’t degrade your skill by working for less than your brothers and sisters in your trade. Don’t let oppression get you down or go unchecked. Fight! Resist!