A recent rally in support of Chipotle workers in Augusta | Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989 via Facebook
Originally published in the Beacon on September 5, 2022
At rallies, barbecues and breakfasts across the state this Labor Day weekend, workers celebrated a year that has seen a significant uptick in Maine and across the country in employees wanting to organize unions. Many of the union campaigns are in industries that have never previously been organized.
Beacon has a rundown of some of the accomplishments of Maine workers this year.
Organizing fast food chains
Maine was ground zero for the effort to unionize Chipotle restaurants. In June, after having expressed concerns about understaffing, a majority of workers at the Augusta restaurant filed to form a union called Chipotle United.
It was a first among Chipotle workers nationwide. The chain responded in July by announcing it was permanently closing the Augusta restaurant — a move the workers and their allies in the labor movement decried as blatant union busting. Then last month, workers filed a complaint that they were blacklisted from being hired at other Chipotle locations because of their involvement in the campaign.
Their efforts were not in vain, however, as they apparently inspired other workers outside Maine. In August, Chipotle workers in Lansing, Michigan formed the fast food chain’s first recognized union in the U.S..
Baristas at Starbucks in Biddeford and Portland are also trying to organize unions in relatively uncharted waters. Since the first corporate Starbucks location voted to unionize in December 2021, 206 stores have won union elections.
Maine Med nurses continue to build power
In the health care industry, nurses at Maine Medical Center last month overwhelmingly rejected a decertification vote backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which describes its mission as eliminating the power of unions. Seventy-four percent of nurses voted to continue their association with the Maine State Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United.
The nurses formed a union last year following several failed attempts dating back to the 1970s. In the year since, support for the union has apparently grown, as the original vote to form the collective bargaining unit won by 14%, compared to last month’s 48% margin.
The newly unionized nurses at Maine Med have taken on what they see as structural failures in the for-profit hospital industry. In January, the nurses joined in a nationwide day of action to highlight chronic understaffing. In May, amid negotiations for their first contract, nurses picketed the hospital to protest unsustainable and unsafe workloads put on them by management.
Maine political staffers, BDN journalists join the wave
Other workers who joined the wave of union organizing this year were the permanent staff at the Maine Democratic Party, who joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1837 in January. The newsroom staff of the Bangor Daily News and other Bangor Publishing Company newspapers announced plans to unionize in May, joining a wave of media professionals getting organized that began in 2015. Their union was voluntarily recognized by the publishing company without a vote.
Other efforts have faced intense anti-union campaigns from management. Almost 700 educators and staff at Bates College launched an effort to form a union in October 2021. They voted in January, but those votes have been impounded by the National Labor Relations Board after the college appealed a decision allowing adjunct faculty to be in the union.
Labor Day celebrations
Across the state on Sunday and Monday, union organizers and elected officials spoke at events hosted by labor organizations.
On Sunday, the Central Maine Labor Council hosted a barbecue in Winslow featuring guest speakers including Governor Janet Mills, Brandi McNease of Chipotle United, Justin Shaw of United Steelworkers 4-9 at Sappi Skowhegan and Captain Scott Holst of Waterville Professional Firefighters — the International Association of Fire Fighters 1608.
Today, the Southern Maine Labor Council hosts its annual Labor Day breakfast at the Irish Heritage Center in Portland. Mills, Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) and Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) are expected to be in attendance.
Also on Monday, Eastern Maine Labor Council along with Food AND Medicine will host a celebration in Brewer. The event will also include Mills, Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana and members of the Bangor Daily News union.
Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at dan(at)mainebeacon.com.