Weekly Update: Labor Lobby Day, Dinner with Jared Golden & The First Strike of Irish Mainers

In this edition:

  • Labor Lobby Day Recap
  • Reminder: Free Dinner with Jared Golden
  • Bill to Restore Overtime Protections Gets Hearing
  • St. Patrick’s Day Parade This Sunday
  • Labor History: The First Strike of Maine Irish!

200 Workers Representing 50 Unions Attend Labor Lobby Day,  Unveil Working Class Legislative Agenda

Happy Friday, Brothers and Sisters!

We had an outstanding turnout for our annual Labor Lobby Day in Augusta this year! About 200 workers representing 50 unions traveled to the State House to talk with their legislators and the governor about key working class issues. Union members unveiled their 2019 Working Class Legislative Agenda, which outlines a range of priority bills to ensure safe and healthy workplaces, protection for injured workers, corporate accountability and collective bargaining rights.

Dana Gardner, a log hauler from St. Francis, urged the Legislature to support LR 225, which would create an exemption to anti-trust laws to allow forest products workers to band together and bargain collectively over rates, benefits and working conditions. Gardner spoke of North Woods loggers and haulers working 16 to 20 hours a day while still struggling to make ends meet because they're not getting fair rates for their labor.

“Let’s say you called a contractor to build a garage and when he was all done, he gave you a bill for $25,000 and you said, ‘Nope I’m going to give you $5,000. Well that’s how it is for us,” said Gardner.” We do the work and two to three weeks later, they tell us what they’re going to pay us. And it’s getting so out-of-hand that people are losing their equipment to the banks and they’re losing their homes. That’s why I’m here today. With the help of the Machinists Union we’ve started a co-op and we want to be able to organize and discuss what we feel is fair and right for all these loggers.”

Dana Gardner, a log hauler from St. Francis, speaks in favor of collective bargaining rights for forest products workers.

Steve Simonson of Windham, a firefighter/paramedic with the South Portland Fire Department and President of IAFF 1476, called on lawmakers to pass LD 600, which would treat mental injuries similarly to physical injuries when approving workers’ compensation claims, LD 601, which would restore cost of living adjustments to workers’ comp benefits for injured workers and other bills to strengthen workers' comp.

“We know that the work is dangerous. We know it when we sign up. I don’t have a problem with that. Its part of providing a critical public service,”  said Simonson.  “What I do have a problem with is that we should not have to jump through hoops when we are hurt.  We should not have to fight every inch of the way to get basic fairness and dignity under the Workers Compensation system.

Erin Oberson, a registered nurse from Old Town, and Todd Ricker of the Maine Nurses Association lobby Sen. Jim Dill (D-Old Town) on earned paid sick leave.

Erin Oberson of Old Town, a registered nurse and a member of the Maine State Nurses Association, expressed strong support for LD 369, which would create the right to earned paid sick leave for nearly the 200,000 Mainers who don’t currently have the benefit.

“We urgently want the State of Maine to grant the dignity of earned paid sick time to each and every person in our state’s workforce,” said Oberson. “Why do we say that this bill is about dignity? We say that because, in our state, there are currently two kinds of workers;  those who have the right to stay home when they are sick and not lose their pay, and those who, when they do stay home when they are sick, lose their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Because every person gets sick at one point or another, and because we all need the pay we earn at work to have food, clothing and shelter, it is a wholly undignified choice when someone must choose between staying home and losing their pay or going to work sick.”

And Robin Rice of Parsonsfield, a call center employee and member of Communications Workers of America Local 1400, spoke in favor of LD 201, which would protect good Maine jobs by prohibiting state agencies from outsourcing call center work and making companies that outsource call centers ineligible for state grants, loans or tax breaks.

“Over the past several years, companies across Maine have closed down or downsized call centers,  putting hundreds of Maine employees out of work and harming families and communities. Many of those same companies have outsourced those call centers to Asia and Latin America, where labor is cheap and working conditions are poor,” said Rice. “That’s we at the Communications Workers of America Local 1400 are supporting LD 201, which would prevent future outsourcing and protect good Maine jobs.”

Labor Lobby Day comes in the midst of a rejuvenation of the labor movement with more union activity than we have seen in three decades. Despite millions of dollars poured into anti-union propaganda, a recent Gallup poll found that 62 percent of Americans and nearly 70 percent of young Americans support unions.

“The public is on our side because they know that collective action is the most effective way for working people to secure the right to fair wages, dignity, safe workplaces and a society that works for everybody, not just the super wealthy,” Phinney added. “It’s time to put Maine back on track and support the people who built this state. Working people.”

Please visit our Facebook page for more photos of Labor Lobby Day  and to see a video of the press conference. And check out the local media coverage of the event at Maine Public , News Center, WABI and Maine Beacon.

Revenue Sharing & Binding Arbitration

There are important public hearings coming up in the State Legislature in the next week. Email us to let us know if you can attend or submit testimony. 

  • Public Hearing on Revenue Sharing in the State Budget (Maine AFL-CIO supports):  Wednesday March 20, 10am, Appropriations Committee.
  • Public Hearing on LD 1177, to make arbitration binding on economic issues in the public sector (Maine AFL-CIO Supports):  Monday March 25, 9am, Labor & Housing Committee.
  • Public Hearing on LD 1214, State Employee Compensation Study (Maine AFL-CIO Supports):  Monday March 25, 1:05pm, Labor & Housing Committee

The State of Maine is supposed to share 5% of state sales and income tax revenues with towns as a way to ease property taxes and support municipal services. In the proposed budget revenue sharing is slated to be at 2.5% in 2019 and 3% in 2020.  We support raising revenue sharing to 5% as a way to support public services in our communities, support firefighters, first responders, municipal workers and others and to provide property tax relief. Let us know if you are willing to testify or submit written testimony.​

At lobby day, ​Jim Seymour of Gardiner, an adjunct professor and Vice President of the Maine Part-Time Faculty Association, AFT 5493, made a strong case for LD 1177, which would make arbitration binding on economic issues in the public sector. Currently, in the public sector in Maine if the parties can’t reach a contract, they go to mediation, fact-finding and then arbitration.  But under Maine law, arbitration is non-binding on economic issues like salary, health insurance and retirement.​

“I don’t think many Mainers know that in the University of Maine system, the majority of your teachers are part time and the majority of those part-time teachers do not get benefits," said Seymour. ​ "We are the poster children of the gig economy. Colleges and universities have taken on the corporate model, leaving part-time workers without the rights that we think we deserve. So it’s time to contact your legislators and tell them to support LD 1177 and LD 900. It’s important to give us the ability to fight for are rights.”

Free Dinner with Congressman Jared Golden, 3/20

For those who haven’t signed up yet, it’s not too late to get your free tickets for the Maine Fair Trade Campaign annual meeting on March 20, which will feature a discussion with Congressman Jared Golden about the Trump administration’s proposed rewrite of NAFTA. Arthur Stamoulis from Citizen Trade Campaign will also be joining us by Skype. The doors open at 5:30 pm and dinner will start at 6 pm at the Plumbers & Pipefitters Hall, 21 Gabriel Drive, Augusta. Please get your free ticket at https://mftcannual2019.bpt.me in advance.  It’s now or never to get the NAFTA we were promised. Join us!

Bill to Restore Overtime Protections

This past Monday, Maine AFL-CIO testified in support of a bill to restore overtime pay for salaried workers who work over 40 hours per week. Overtime pay used to be a federal labor standard with about 60 percent of the workforce qualifying for overtime hours paid at 1.5 times the normal rate of pay. But over decades, inflation and anti-labor policies have greatly eroded the legal standard, culminating in a 2004 federal rule stating that only those salaried employees earning less than $23,660 — about 7 percent of the population — qualify for overtime. Under Maine law, only salaried employees earning $33,000 or less are eligible for overtime.

“Mainers are working longer hours and not getting ahead.  Restoring overtime protections is a win-win. Some workers will get more money in their pockets. Others will get more time with their family for the same pay,” said Adam Goode, Legislative and Political Director for the Maine AFL-CIO.

LD 402, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Tipping (D-Orono), would rectify this injustice by increasing the overtime threshold below which salaried workers are automatically considered eligible for overtime. The bill would increase the threshold in stages to $55,224 by 2022, and index it thereafter. This change will give extra overtime protections to nearly 28,000 working people. The Labor and Housing Committee is expected to vote on LD 402 in the coming weeks.

“People should get paid for the hours they work.   They should not work for free,” Goode added. “If you are an assistant store manager and you make $35,000 per year and work 60 hours a week, you are working 20 hours for free. This puts more money in the pockets of working Mainers and restores the principle of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

On Monday, the Labor and Housing Committee will also consider several bills that would weaken the minimum wage as well as one bill (LD 670) that would increase the minimum wage gradually year by year to $15 per hour for employers with over 50 employees. We'll keep you posted on those. 

March With Us in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade This Sunday!

We’re planning to make strong union showing at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade this Sunday, March 17 on Commercial Street in Portland.  The parade kicks off from the Fish Pier at noon. Participants should arrive at 11:00 a.m. Parade goes East on Commercial Street to Bell Buoy Park. Please join us and look for the Southern Maine Labor Council banner!

Maine Labor History: The First Strike of Irish Mainers

And in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’d like to share a story about the first strike of Maine Irish workers in 1848. The following is an excerpt from labor historian Charlie Scontras’ book “Collective Efforts Among Maine Workers, Beginnings and Foundations, 1820-1880.”

In January of 1848 the overseer of an Irish railroad gang, working on the line between Brunswick and Freeport, discharged one of the laborers. The whole gang quit in an act of ethnic solidarity and refused to labor until the discharged worker had been reinstated. The overseer responded by dismissing the entire work crew. The Irishmen, however, were determined to prevent their replacements from working. It was reported that "guns, pistols, and ammunition were in great demand," and that "all the old arms in the neighborhood were purchased at any price." The strikers harassed the strike breakers, but no serious injuries were reported beyond that of one person who was shot in the leg.

About a month later local papers reported that Irish laborers working on the same line had conducted themselves in a "riotous manner" as "a body of them proceeded towards Freeport, armed with guns, pistols, and other weapons, terrifying the people along their route, and actually inflicting personal injury upon some A great number of firearms were discharged, and a ball from a gun passed through the collar of the coat of one of our citizens." While measures were taken by the local authorities to suppress the unrest, it is not clear whether or not the insurgence of the Irish laborers was related to the demand for wage increases.

Ah, those wild Irish.

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