One Year Later

IN THIS EDITION

  • Nurses to Hold Contract Rally in Machias
  • Fighting Back in the Wake of the Janus Decision
  • ​Portland City Manager Throws Tantrum at Firefighters
  • Save the Dates: Labor Day Events!
  • Better Know a Local: IBEW 1837

NURSES TO HOLD CONTRACT RALLY IN MACHIAS,  JULY 18

Nurses and technicians at Down East Community Hospital (DECH), members of the Maine State Nurses Association/NNU, are locked in tough negotiations with the hospital.  They are planning a rally for a fair contract Thursday July 18 at 5 pm at the dike in Machias. It will mean a lot to have the support of other union members and allies. Please attend if you can and let us know if you can make it.

For the past several years nurses and techs have accepted contracts with little to no wage increases to help the hospital become financially sustainable. DECH is now doing very well according to their own press releases, yet they refuse to negotiate a contract that will help with recruitment and retention of quality health care workers. In order to serve the community and provide safe quality health care to patients DECH needs to make this a priority.

WORKERS ARE FIGHTING BACK AGAINST THE CORPORATE ASSAULT ON UNIONS

It’s been one year since a conservative Supreme Court majority narrowly sided with greedy billionaires and corporations in its infamous Janus v. AFSCME decision which allows public sector workers to gain all the benefits of unions without contributing a nickel.

In response, public employees in Maine and across the country are organizing within their unions,  building relationships and having important face-to-face conversations with each other about how to improve wages, benefits, working conditions and the public services they provide.  As a result of this deep organizing and broader collective action, union membership remains steady and is actually increasing in some places. For resources to do internal organizing in your union click here​.

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, well-funded corporate front groups have recently swooped into Maine to try to weaken unions by using deceptive tactics to mislead and divide public sector workers. But workers are fighting back against this coordinated attack on the working class!

Here in Maine, we recently passed a new law that will make it easier for public-sector unions to access new hires in the wake of the Janus decision. AFSCME and other public-sector unions have also been working with members of Congress on the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would guarantee public-sector workers the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively.

All of this is occurring as support for unions is surging and young people feeling increasingly emboldened to challenge their bosses and demand better treatment. While the corporate class may currently control the levers of power in Washington, working people can control their own destiny when they get organized and demand change!

FIRE FIGHTERS ADVOCATE FOR FIRE TRUCK, CITY MANAGER THROWS A TANTRUM

​Earlier this week, NEWS CENTER reported​ that Portland City Manager Jon Jennings attempted to have a brick with his name on it removed from a memorial for fallen fire fighters because he was angry at city fire fighters for opposing one of his budget decisions. Jennings reportedly was still seething at members of IAFF Local 740 for objecting to the city's decision back in May to decommission Engine 1 on Munjoy Hill. This Facebook post from the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine puts it perfectly:

SAVE THE DATES: LABOR DAY EVENTS!

With the 4th of July festivities behind us, remember Labor Day is just around the corner. Maine's four Central Labor Councils put on great Labor Day events.  These events are a wonderful chance for union families and friends to get together and celebrate working people. 

Central Maine Labor Council’s Labor Day BBQ

Sunday, Sept. 1, Noon - 3 pm

Fort Halifax, US Route 201, Winslow

Southern Maine Labor Council’s Labor Day Breakfast

Monday, Sept. 2, 8 am - 10 am (doors open at 7)

Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray Street, Portland

Western Maine Labor Council BBQ

Monday, Sept. 2, 1 pm - 3:30 pm

IBEW 567 Union Hall, 238 Goddard Rd., Lewiston

Eastern Maine Labor Council Labor Day Celebration

Monday, Sept. 2, 4:30 pm - 7 pm

Solidarity Center, 20 Ivers St., Brewer

BETTER KNOW A LOCAL: IBEW 1837 & THE STRUGGLE FOR WORKERS' RIGHTS

Colonel William H. Williams supervises a line crew in the Augusta area, ca. 1900. Herbert Rideout is standing on the top of the pole. Photo: Maine Historical Society.

The telegraph and electricity were two technological advancements that radically changed life in 19th century America. But while our culture tends to venerate the inventors and the business people who brought these technologies into the public sphere, too often we forget about the workers who made it all possible. For as long as there have been power stations and electrical lines, there have been electrical workers who have organized and fought to secure good wages, pensions and safe working conditions for future generations. READ MORE...

Following the introductions of the telephone, the incandescent lamp and the first central power station in the late 1870s and early 1880s, there was a rapid demand for electrical workers. But because the captains of the industry demanded a cheap labor force, wages were low, the work was dangerous and the workers were poorly trained.

In those days, line workers would work 12 hours a day, seven days a week in all kinds of weather for about $2.50 a day, which was much less than what a plumber or bricklayer made, according to the IBEW's history​. The national mortality rate for electrical workers was also twice the national average of all industries with as many as one out of every two line workers dying on the job in some areas.

“A lot of the IBEW’s organizing was around safety,” says Matt Beck, a Labor Representative and Organizer of IBEW Local 1837. “There were a lot of people in the industry who died or were badly hurt on the job and were basically left to fend for themselves.”

Electrical workers first began forming unions in the 1870s, including an early attempt by telegraph linemen to organize with the Knights of Labor. However, the Brotherhood of Telegraphers collapsed in 1883 after they failed to win a strike demanding an eight hour workday, wage increases and equal pay for women.

Then in 1890, electrical workers from across the country gathered in Missouri to wire buildings and set up exhibits for the St. Louis Exposition. As the workers congregated at the end of the day, they began discussing their poor wages and wretched working conditions. It was then that they decided they needed to get organized. After seeking the help of an organizer from the AFL, a year later IBEW was chartered. But it would be several years before Maine workers joined up.

At the turn of the century, a number of Maine towns had small locally-owned hydro-electric companies to power street lights and street cars using direct current technology. Workers would use horse-drawn carriages and some mechanical technology, but safety precautions were still limited. One of the earliest IBEW locals in Maine was Local 399, which was chartered in Portland with 45 members in 1903. Two years later, Central Maine Power, which originally started with a tiny 22.5 kilowatt hydro facility in Oakland in 1887, was chartered and gradually began acquiring dozens of small power companies over the next few decades.

A 1918 Maine union contract lists the wages for the lowest paid apprentice at 25 cents an hour while the most well-paid, foreman/lineman, earned 46 cents an hour. Those who worked seven days a week would get two weeks vacation, but no vacation is mentioned for those who worked six days a week.

None of the original locals had paid staff, so in 1973, at the behest of their International, nearly all of the utility workers’ locals in Maine and New Hampshire merged with IBEW 1837 so they could pool their resources and hire a labor rep to more effectively advocate for their interests. IBEW 1837 currently represents line workers, clerks, meter technicians and customer representatives as well as employees at Channel 13 in Portland and Channel 5 in Bangor.

Over the years, IBEW 1837 has won some important victories including its first strike at CMP in 1977 over pensions and last year’s strike at the New Hampshire Electric Co-op over the company's attempt to cut 401(k)s. Most recently, IBEW 1837 workers successfully negotiated a new staffing agreement with CMP to hire more than 100 new union employees after widespread complaints about the company's response to the devastating October 2017 wind storm.

“We’ve had occasional layoffs, but overall I think our members have been pretty fortunate to work for these companies with the benefits of union representation,” said Beck. “All and all I think things have been pretty good for our members."