Who Fights for Pay Equity? Unions Do!

Weekly Working Class Update

In this Edition:

  • Equal Pay Day
  • Collective Bargaining Rights Bill Passes Committee
  • "Right to Work" Bill Dead (For Now)
  • Earned Paid Sick Leave
  • Public Hearings Next Week
  • Lewiston Textile Strike of 1854

“The Best Way to Get Pay Equity is a Union Contract”

Jessica Ford of Machinists Union Local S6 speaks at Equal Pay Day.

Pay discrimination is alive and well in Maine. Currently, women in Maine earn just 82 cents to every dollar men make. As part of “Equal Pay Day” this year, we were very proud to have Jessica Ford, a machinist at Bath Iron Works and member of the Machinists Union Local S6, speak at press conference at the State House about how unions can help decrease the gender pay gap. Ford said that she had previously worked at a non-union workplace and struggled to make ends meet as a single parent. She later learned that men were getting paid more than women for the same work, but workers were discouraged from discussing wages. But now her union contract prevents this kind of pay discrimination.

“The best way to get pay equity is a union contract,” said Ford. “Women in unions experience a smaller wage gap than women without a union and because I am in a union I know I will get the same pay for the same work.

A video of Jessica’s  whole speech is available here, and she was also interviewed by WABI TV and the Maine Beacon. On the same day, the State Senate passed a gender pay equity bill, LD 278, which would prohibit employers from asking about a job applicant’s wage history before making a job offer. Women disproportionately work in underpaid and undervalued professions, so basing one's wage off of prior salaries limits a worker's chance to move into professions that offer significantly better pay. The measure now goes to the governor for her signature.

Collective Bargaining Rights Bill Passes Committee

On Monday, the Labor and Housing Committee voted on party lines to recommend passage of LD 1177, which would make arbitration binding in negotiations over wages, benefits and retirement for public sector workers. The Maine Beacon published an excellent piece this week about how important this bill is for public sector employees like adjunct professors who are paid extremely poorly and receive no benefits. Binding arbitration would give them some leverage in negotiations.

We are also hoping to have a great turn out on April 17 in support of LD 900, which would give public sector workers the right to strike. Please email [email protected] if you intend to testify.

Committee Kills Right to Work for Less Bill

On Wednesday, the Labor & Housing Committee rejected LD 1232, a destructive so-called “Right to Work” bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Bradley). Such laws are designed to weaken unions, drive down wages and allow workers to get the benefits of unions without paying dues. The average full-time worker in states with these laws earns $1,558 less per year and are less likely to have health insurance or a pension, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“The reality is that legislation like LD 1232 is part of a coordinated effort by billionaires and corporations to strip workers of their rights and drive down wages in the name of profit,” said Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney. 

“Right to Work” laws originated in the South, pushed by white supremacist, discriminatory organizations that sought to weaken unions and uphold Jim Crow segregation. They feared that if unions could unite black and white workers they could undo the racially segregated political economy and political order of the South.

Contact Your Legislators About Earned Paid Sick Leave!

Although a bill to require employers to provide earned paid sick leave passed a committee vote last month, some state senators are getting cold feet about LD 369 and are supporting a much more watered down version of the bill that will leave thousands of working Mainers without the benefit. So please contact your senators and representatives and tell them to support the bill that passed the Labor and Housing Committee! Here’s a great op-ed written by registered nurse Monique Babineau of Millinocket in support of earned paid sick leave.

Public Hearings Next Week

Below are the public hearings coming up in the State Legislature. Email us to let us know if you can attend or submit written testimony.

Workers Compensation Bills

Monday, April 8, 9 am, Labor & Housing Committee.

The Maine AFL-CIO supports these bills and others to support injured workers getting a fair shake under the Workers Comp system.

  • LD 298, would amend the workers compensation laws by adding a presumption that heart disease or hypertension suffered by a corrections employee was caused in the course of employment.  
  • LD 580, would enact measures designed to strengthen representation for injured workers and improve the Worker Advocate Program.
  • LD 1204, would eliminate the cap on the weekly workers comp benefits.
  • LD 1253, would remove the 500-week cap on receiving death benefits through the workers’ comp system.

REVENUE SHARING BILLS (Maine AFL-CIO Supports)

Tuesday April 9, 1pm, Taxation Committee

The State of Maine is supposed to share 5% of state income and sales taxes with towns and cities as a way to reduce property taxes and support public services and the workers who provide them. The Governor’s budget underfunds revenue sharing at 2.5%/3% over next two years.  We support fully funding revenue sharing.

  • LD 133     Act To Fully Restore State-Municipal Revenue Sharing for Fiscal Year 2018-19
  • LD 193       An Act To Fully Fund and Restore State-Municipal Revenue Sharing
  • LD 444       An Act To Fully Restore Revenue Sharing
  • LD 1278        RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine Requiring the State To Share Not Less Than 5 Percent of State Sales and Income Tax Revenue with Municipalities.

Fair Scheduling Bill to Get Hearing

The Labor and Housing Committee will take up a bill aimed at making schedules more predictable for workers on April 10. Too often, employers create unpredictable work schedules that make it difficult for their workers to plan ahead for child care and other part-time jobs or commitments. LD 1345, sponsored by Rep. Gina Melaragno (D-Auburn), would require that companies with more than five employees provide hourly employees at least two weeks' prior notice of the employees' work schedules and compensate workers for schedule changes under certain circumstances.

The Lewiston Textile Strike of 1854

165 years ago this week, women textile workers went out on strike to call for shorter hours as they had previously worked as long as 15 hours a day at the Lincoln and Bates Mills. After initially winning an 11-hour day, the corporations decided to lengthen the work day to 12 hours, sparking a walk out of two-thirds of the work force. Accompanied by the Lewiston Brass Band, the women paraded the streets of Lewiston and lectured to strikers who assembled in Jones Hall. The defiant spirit of the strikers was revealed in a speech by one of their leaders. Miss Sarah Wilson, who presided over the meeting:

“What if we do stay out a fortnight, and pay our board? I am willing to sign my name to it a hundred times, if it will do any good. I have a father's house to go to; I have sisters, and brothers; and I can go to other places. But I am willing to stay out four weeks, and to divide my last cent with my sister factory girls. It is not the money that I look at. I have had good pay. I should be receiving extra pay in the spring. It would have been much better for me to have held my tongue as far as regards money matters. But that is not what I look at. I consider the rest of the girls. I consider the rising generation; and want to see them have their rights!”

“Collective Efforts Among Maine Workers: Beginnings and Foundations, 1820-1880.” by Charles Scontras. Bangor Whig and Courier, April 1, 1854.