Union scorecards show progress on labor bills, but hurdles remain after Mills’ vetoes / by Evan Popp

Photo: MSEA members rally outside in June the State House on Sunday for a fair contract / Courtesy of the Maine Service Employee Association.

Recently released scorecards from unions in Maine tell the story of a legislative session in which significant progress on expanding labor protections was coupled with setbacks on a number of workers’ rights reforms nixed by Gov. Janet Mills.  

The 2021 legislative scorecard from the Maine AFL-CIO, which represents over 40,000 working and retired Mainers, featured ratings for each state legislator based on how they voted on the priority bills, with many Democrats in the House and Senate receiving high scores. Republicans generally fared poorly in the scorecard. 

The scorecard featured successful bills that strengthened and modernized the state’s unemployment system, provided funding for green affordable housing constructed with strong labor agreements, required racial impact statements in the legislative process, and ensured safer workplaces on construction projects.

The scorecard also included a bill that was approved to protect workers and the public from threats of privatization, another measure that passed to provide a property tax exemption for Central Labor Councils, a bill that the AFL-CIO successfully opposed that would have implemented an anti-union “right to work for less” law, and the state budget that saw Maine finally fulfill its obligation to fund 55% of local education costs.     

There were four additional bills in the scorecard, three of which were vetoed by Mills, a conservative Democrat. These measures include a bill to give wronged workers greater access to the court system, legislation to level the playing field for public sector workers in contract negotiations, and a bill to create a state purchasing preference for goods made in the U.S. The fourth bill, which would have required renewable energy projects that receive state assistance to pay workers a prevailing wage — among other requirements — was voted down in the Senate after the AFL-CIO said the governor’s office worked behind the scenes to defeat the measure. 

“We can’t think of a time in recent history when we’ve won that many changes that will improve workers’ lives,” the AFL-CIO wrote in the scorecard, citing more than 20 pro-labor reforms that became law. “At the same time, we remain disappointed in actions that blocked bigger efforts to build workers’ power, promote labor standards and tackle the deep inequality that haunts our economy.” 

The group added that while the governor supported notable advancements in labor rights, Mills was a barrier to change in some cases, including on a bill that she vetoed that would have given loggers more of a voice in the North Maine Woods. 

“We don’t see the Governor demonstrating the same enthusiasm as legislative champions when it comes to building workers’ power and tackling deep inequality, as is evidenced by her vetoes, bills that became law without her signature and testimony from the executive branch on a number of issues,” the AFL-CIO wrote. “There is a willingness to fund key measures, but less of a commitment to challenge the deep power imbalance between workers and corporations in our economy.” 

Mills’ office did not respond to a request for comment. 

Gov. Janet Mills speaks at signing of a bill for paid time off in 2019 joined by Maine State Chamber of Commerce president Dana Connors, left | Beacon

Gov. Janet Mills speaks at signing of a bill for paid time off in 2019 joined by Maine State Chamber of Commerce president Dana Connors, left | Beacon

The document praised a number of specific legislators, including Democratic leadership in each chamber, for ushering through labor reforms. The AFL-CIO also noted the effort by Rep. Thom Harnett (D-Gardiner) to further the rights of farmworkers through two bills he sponsored. One of those bills, a measure that would allow Maine farmworkers to organize, is being held by Mills. The other, a bill to end the exclusion of farmworkers from state wage and hour laws, failed in the House after 20 Democrats, including House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), joined with Republicans to vote against it. 

While praising many Democrats, the AFL-CIO noted that it was disappointed to see Sens. Bill Diamond (D-Cumberland), Louis Luchini (D-Hancock), Susan Deschambault (D-York) and James Dill (D-Penobscot) “vote against prevailing wages, good training programs and equity on renewable energy construction projects” in LD 1231, the bill the governor worked behind the scenes to defeat. The group also pushed back on votes by Reps. Michael Brennan (D-Portland), Steve Moriarty (D-Cumberland), Patricia Hymanson (D-York), Anne Perry (D-Calais) and Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) against the bill to strengthen public sector bargaining rights. 

MSEA scorecard 

The Maine Service Employees Association, which represents more than 12,000 Maine workers (including employees of Maine People’s Alliance, of which Beacon is a project) also recently released a scorecard for the first session of the 130th Legislature. The document scored seven bills, such as the “back to basics budget” passed in March and signed by Mills that allowed the legislature to move forward without the looming threat of a government shutdown. 

Other bills scored by MSEA include a successful effort to fund collective bargaining agreements with executive branch workers and a joint resolution urging the Mills administration to address the state employee pay gap within a new contract. The group said the support from the legislature in that resolution helped MSEA reach a tentative agreement with the administration in mid-August. 

In its scorecard, MSEA also included votes on the bipartisan state budget, the public sector bargaining rights bill, the “right to work for less bill” (which it opposed), and the bill to protect against privatization — a longstanding labor priority that was finally passed this session. 

“One of the major reasons why we do the scorecard is so that we can share with our members a level of accountability,” Jeff McCabe, MSEA’s political and legislative director, said. “It’s really important that we show folks just how their legislators are voting. Often our members have positive interactions with legislators who say they’ll support key issues, but by ranking them on the scorecard, it shows how legislators are actually voting.”  

The scorecard praised a number of Democratic lawmakers for their positions on labor measures, including members of leadership such as Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) and Fecteau in the House along with other legislators such as Sen. Craig Hickman (D-Kennebec) and Reps. Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth), Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) and Mike Sylvester (D-Portland).

“I’m proud to have shown up for our state workers in the Legislature the same way they show up for us every day,” Jackson said in response to his 100% score. “I will continue pushing to improve their working conditions and ensure they can secure contracts in good faith.”

On Mills, while the governor signed many of the bills MSEA included in its scorecard, the union expressed frustration that she once again vetoed legislation to strengthen collective bargaining rights, which Mills also blocked in 2019.  

“While it wasn’t a surprise to us, that remains a disappointment. We are going to continue to fight for binding arbitration,” McCabe said of Mills’ latest veto of that bill, decrying the growing influence of outside law firms at the bargaining table and arguing that the legislation was designed to “level the playing field” for public sector workers. 

Progressive frustration with Mills 

The lingering displeasure with Mills from the legislative session among many progressives and pro-worker advocates became particularly apparent with the recent launch of a campaign to convince Jackson to challenge Mills from the left in the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

This week, proponents of that effort — which is being spearheaded by leaders from the Maine Machinists Council and other unions such as Teamsters Local Union No. 340 and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades’ Maine chapter — published a column in the Bangor Daily News titled “Why Troy Jackson should run for governor” that criticized Mills’ record and praised Jackson.  

However, Jackson made clear in a statement released by his office that he will not be running against Mills.

“To be honest, I am deeply disappointed in this column,” he said. “Though we may have our differences, I’m not challenging the governor in her campaign for re-election. She has been a strong leader throughout a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis and has been an integral partner on many issues I care deeply about. She has my support in 2022.”

In the BDN op-ed, Maine Machinists Council president Mark Vigliotta wrote that Mills — who is facing a challenge from former Republican Gov. Paul LePage — has used her power to nix many pro-worker reforms that Jackson has sponsored and fought for.

“Time and again during her time in office, I and my members have worked to pass legislation to protect and improve the lives of Maine workers, only to see this governor work to kill the bill on the floor of the legislature or veto it after it made it to her desk,” Vigliotta argued. 

Author: Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at evan(at)mainebeacon.com.

Source: Maine Beacon, October 1, 2021, https://mainebeacon.com/union-scorecards-show-progress-on-labor-bills-but-hurdles-remain-after-mills-vetoes/