Undermining Workers

This legislative session saw a number of bills seeking to undermine economic security and weaken worker and consumer protections for Mainers. Six bills in particular attempted to undermine the power of collective bargaining for workers in Maine.

Assaults on Worker Rights

Despite tremendous lobbying pressure and a series of compelling editorials and letters to the editor in the Maine’s newspapers, the majority of lawmakers voted in favor of legislation that repealed collective bargaining rights for workers at the former DeCoster egg factory farms. The farms were some of a few in the country that allowed their workers, many of them Latinos and immigrants, to collectively bargain, a step that was taken after a series of worker abuses were uncovered at the factory farms.

Another bill passed this year, LD 1894, took away the rights of family child care providers to collectively bargain with the state.  It was introduced in the final weeks of session by Governor LePage.  Advocates for workers’ rights quickly came together to testify against the bill and lobby for its defeat. Unfortunately, the bill passed along party lines and will be enacted.

 The most potentially dangerous legislation, LD 309, is still waiting in the wings. It’s a so-called “right-to-work” bill that would make paying dues for members or anyone who benefits from union bargaining optional, basically crippling unions across the state. After being carried over from last year, this bill was scheduled for a work session in the final days of the legislative session. Hundreds of union members and supporters turned out to fill the State House and express their opposition to the union-busting bill and it was eventually tabled in committee. No further action has been taken at this time. While the bill is still alive, it appears that Maine legislators are doing everything they can to avoid voting for this dangerous and unpopular measure.

Creating Barriers to Economic Security

Two other bills introduced this session would have undermined the economic security of Mainers by creating more barriers to obtaining tax refunds through the Circuit Breaker program and making it more difficult for Mainers to collect unemployment benefits. 

LD 1680, a bill claiming to stamp out non-existent fraud in the Circuit Breaker program, a tax relief program that allows Mainers to collect a partial tax refund on property taxes or rent, would have made it harder for Maine people to apply for and receive a refund under the Program. After testimony and lobbying by coalition partners, both of these bills were amended to institute changes less harmful to working families seeking property tax refunds or adjustments.

LD 1725, another bill from the Governor, makes it more difficult for Maine people to collect unemployment benefits. Much like LD 1680, this bill was written under the guise of reducing fraud in the system (Maine already has the fifth lowest fraud rate in the country). Rather than fix problems, this bill creates problems for Mainers who are already struggling to find employment.  MPA and the Working Families Coalition worked with all members of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee to improve components of L.D. 1725. However, members of the committee remained split on earned vacation pay and the number of weeks job seekers can focus on looking for work matching their previous wage and skill level.

The Maine People’s Alliance endorses policies that enable Maine people to adequately provide for their families through work, embracing a balanced approach to growing Maine’s economy that supports both employers and employees, both workplaces and Maine’s workforce. MPA believes that economic security for workers is a necessity for the growth of Maine businesses and opposes policy changes that increase hardships for Maine’s working families.