Delayed union drive at Bates College fails to get enough votes / by Dan Neumann

Bates College. | David Gale Studios, Creative Commons via Flickr

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 23, 2023

After more than a year’s delay, a campaign to organize a union for the adjunct faculty and staff at Bates College in Lewiston failed to get enough votes. 

On Thursday afternoon, the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board counted workers’ ballots that were cast in January 2022 to form the Bates Educators and Staff Organization (BESO), a wall-to-wall union that would have been part of the Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989 and available to any worker who is not management, tenure-track faculty, or a campus safety officer. But the campaign failed with a vote of 254 against and 186 for the union.  

“Of course, we are disappointed in the outcome of our election. However, we’ll continue to stay connected and work to build a voice for us educators and staff on campus,” the Bates Educators and Staff Organizing Committee said in a statement on Thursday.

“We faced a difficult and heavily-funded anti-union campaign, and still overcame so much together,” the statement continued. “Win or lose, it is clearly time for change at Bates, and although we won’t be able to take this step of forming a union together right now, we are incredibly proud of our organizing and the way our campus has come together over the past 18 months.”

The union drive began in October 2021, when the organizers announced their intent to unionize, citing low pay, poor working conditions and declining staff retention at the private liberal arts college as their reasons for organizing.

Staff members and student supporters hoped for an amicable response from administration, but, as Beacon previously reported, the college dug in against the organizers and hired anti-union consultants who began hosting meetings presented as unbiased informational forums about the pros and cons of unions. Routine for decades, such meetings are tactics used by employers to erode possible union support by requiring workers to attend anti-union briefings.

After staff voted by paper ballot last year, the administration petitioned the NLRB to impound the ballots while their legal team challenged the composition of the bargaining unit. The 2019 rule that allowed the ballots to be impounded for 14 months has since been rescinded by the NLRB.

In a statement released ahead of the vote count on Thursday, workers emphasized that the campus community is tired of Bates’ time, money and resources being used on expensive anti-union legal battles. 

With a new incoming college president, there is optimism that such tactics will change. On March 7, the college’s Board of Trustees announced that they had unanimously selected Gary Jenkins as the ninth president of Bates since its founding in 1855.

“The outgoing administration jammed our union efforts with now-illegal delay tactics and process challenges wherever they could,” said Jon-Michael Foley, a grounds and maintenance worker at Bates. “We’re ready to move on from the constant interference and get to the negotiations table. Is President Jenkins ready to collaborate and deliver better for us, or will it just be more of the same? Everyone is waiting eagerly for Bates to choose a more productive path forward.”

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

Michigan makes history, first state to repeal Right-to-Work (for less) in 60 years / by Mark Gruenberg

Thousands of workers protest right-to-work on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich. | Carlos Osorio / AP

Originally published in the People’s World, March 16, 2023

LANSING, Mich.—Michigan’s pro-worker Democratic sweep last November swept out the Wolverine State’s corporate Republican-passed right-to-work (for less) laws in March.

Democratic legislative leaders, who took “trifecta” power in the election, made RTW repeal their #1 priority and won it 56-53 in the state House and 20-17 in the Senate on party-line votes.

Then lawmakers, also on party-line votes, restored project labor agreements, too.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), whose landslide win over a Trumpite foe produced the coattails that created the first completely Democratic control in Lansing in decades, is expected to sign both measures. The RTW repeal would be the first in a state in 60 years.

Workers jammed the capitol rotunda in Lansing before the House votes, chanting “We are union, the mighty, mighty union,” and erupted into a minute-and-a-half of constant cheers, raised fists, and whoops in a corridor outside the state Senate chamber after the votes there.

Right-to-work is a favorite Republican, radical right, and corporate cause, which seeks to strip workers and their unions of money and political power. PLAs set up both deadlines and worker protections on construction projects. Banning them is the top goal of the anti-worker Associated Builders and Contractors, an ersatz “grassroots” association of cut-rate non-union contractors.

A button issued by the Michigan District of the Communist Party urging the repeal of the state’s right-to-work law.

Started in the 1940s as a racist way to divide white from Black workers in the South, right-to-work spread to Michigan in 2012 after the 2010 Republican legislative sweep there and elsewhere. Given unions’ prominent role in Michigan, the RTW win particularly hurt there.

So its repeal was especially gratifying to the state AFL-CIO and Michigan workers. And just to make sure the repeal sticks, lawmakers added some unrelated appropriations for education programs. Laws with money in them can’t be pushed into referendums. Others can.

“Today, our pro-worker Democratic majority in the state House took historic action to undo the devastation caused by decades of attacks on workers’ freedom,” state AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said after House passage.

“Since 2012, thousands of Michigan workers, labor leaders, and organizers across the state have been mobilizing and laying the groundwork for this moment. We applaud the House’s swift action to undo the damage caused by Betsy DeVos”—a major Republican campaign cash contributor who became Donald Trump’s Education Secretary—and Republican Govs. “John Engler, Rick Snyder, and their worker suppression agendas.

“Our legislative leaders are delivering on the promises they made and putting power back into the hands of Michigan workers.”

“What choice do you have when the greedy corporations try to put employees against one another in a race to the bottom?” House Majority Leader Abraham Alyash, D-Hamtramck, asked his colleagues.

“Why do folks in here sometimes get so angry that we’re trying to push people out of poverty?”

“Union dues are an important stream of revenue that help pay for critical contract negotiations, staff, and support of members,” said Rep. Regina Weiss, D-Detroit, sponsor of RTW repeal. “When unions have decreased dues, they have less power to improve working conditions.”

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

Bills to help struggling state retirees gain bipartisan support / by Evan Popp

The Maine State House in Augusta. | Beacon

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 21, 2023

Retired public employees who have been trying to survive on insufficient pension payments may soon see relief after members of Maine’s Labor and Housing committee earlier this month issued a unanimous report recommending an increase to the cost-of-living adjustment. Inflation coupled with drastic cuts made a decade ago to state worker and teacher pensions are pushing more retirees closer to poverty.

As Beacon previously reported, former Gov. Paul LePage and the Republican majority in 2011 significantly slashed public employee pensions to pay for income tax breaks mostly benefiting the wealthy and corporations.

That plan froze cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments on pensions for three years and reduced the maximum COLA from 4% to 3%. Additionally, that 3% COLA boost was limited to only the first $20,000 of benefits the retirees receive. (The cap has since been adjusted to about $24,000).

The cuts have made state employees incredibly disadvantaged in retirement. Those who received pensions don’t pay into Social Security, meaning they are entirely dependent on their pensions when they retire. COLA is currently 8.7% for Social Security benefits, compared to 3% for Maine’s public employees. 

In a unanimous report to the legislature’s budget-writing committee, Democrats and Republicans on the Labor and Housing Committee recommended action to address that issue. The committee put forward two possible policy prescriptions that could help lower retirees’ expenses.

LD 112, sponsored by Rep. Jan Dodge (D-Belfast), a retired music teacher, would require the state to pay 60% of former teachers’ health premiums. LD 111, put forward by Rep. Dan Shagoury (D-Hallowell), would similarly require the state to cover the cost of Medicare Part B for former teachers and public employees. 

Those bills are considered narrower fixes to the problem, with the committee acknowledging in its report that the measures are not “all-inclusive solutions” but will “help alleviate the pain that retirees have been feeling” since the changes made by LePage in 2011. 

A more expansive bill, LD 70, sponsored by Dodge, would eliminate the $24,000 cap on the portion of benefit subject to COLA to instead cover the entire benefit received. However, the Labor and Housing Committee said the bill would cost nearly $1.2 billion and noted that the Maine Constitution does not allow for the creation of new benefits unless they’re immediately and fully funded. 

Still, given the state’s projected revenue surpluses of $282.8 million for fiscal year 2023 and $488.6 million for 2024 and 2025, retired public workers and their advocates say lawmakers need to do what they can this budget cycle to help fill the hole dug by LePage and Republicans a decade ago.

The Labor and Housing Committee agreed that action to address the issue is needed, and lawmakers on the panel expressed “frustration and disappointment that the proposed [Mills administration] budget does not address retiree pension cost-of-living adjustments.” 

Labor advocates reacted positively to the committee’s recommendation, with the AFL-CIO praising Democrats and Republicans on the committee for “coming to a bipartisan agreement to support public employees.” 

Members of the committee were also excited by the unanimous report. 

“Grateful to my colleagues in the Labor and Housing Committee for coming together on this issue,” Rep. Amy Roeder (D-Bangor), the House chair of the committee, said. “While our committee members may not always see eye to eye on policy, we are committed to thoughtful, respectful dialogue around policy. Love that this was a point of agreement.” 

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

Striking workers bring France to standstill to protest rise in retirement age / by Roger McKienzie

Protesters march, with the Pantheon monument in background, during a demonstration in Paris, Tuesday, March 7, 2023. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across France took part Tuesday in a new round of protests and strikes against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64, in what unions hope will be their biggest show of force against the proposal. | Aurelien Morissard / AP

Originally published in Morning Star | The People’s Daily on March 8, 2023

France came to a standstill Tuesday when protesters marched nationwide during the latest round of strikes against a planned rise in the retirement age to 64.

Unions described the protests as their biggest show of force against the deeply unpopular proposal from President Emmanuel Macron’s government. According to the AEF news agency, 63% of French people oppose the government proposal.

Garbage collectors, utility workers, train drivers, and others took action Tuesday to show their anger at the attack on their retirement and pension rights.

More than 250 protests took place across France. In Paris, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, and massive demonstrations were also reported in other major cities, including Marseille, Nice, Nantes, and Lyon.

French Democratic Confederation general secretary Laurent Berger said that the number of demonstrators nationwide was the greatest since the beginning of the protest movement in January.

Philippe Martinez, who heads the left-wing General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union alliance, told FranceInfo: “The goal is that the government withdraw its draft reform. Full stop.”

Some unions have called for open-ended strikes in sectors such as refineries, oil depots, and transport.

Workers at Paris’s Gare de Nord railway station have already voted to continue the strike into Wednesday.

The CGT reported that all oil shipments in France were halted by strikes at the refineries of TotalEnergies, Esso-ExxonMobil, and Petroineos groups. Truck drivers, meanwhile, have sporadically blocked major highways in go-slow actions.

In Paris, garbage collectors have started an open-ended strike and blocked access to an incineration plant at Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris, which is Europe’s biggest such facility.

A fifth of flights were canceled at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, and about a third of flights were scrapped at Orly airport.

Trains to Germany and Spain came to a halt, and those to and from Britain and Belgium were reduced by a third. Most high-speed and regional rail services were canceled as well.

Public transport and other services were disrupted in most French cities. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was closed, as was the Palace of Versailles, west of the capital.

Paris train driver Xavier Bregail said, “We held strong demonstrations earlier, but it’s time to take the movement one step further.”

Bregail voiced hope that the protests would turn into a broader movement against economic injustice.

France’s eight main union confederations and five youth organizations were set to meet Tuesday night to decide on their next steps in defense of pension rights.

Roger McKenzie is the International Editor of Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper.

On eve of strike, millworkers say: ‘I want more than a t-shirt for feeling essential’ / by Laurn McCauley

Workers at St. Croix Chipping in Baileyville, Maine |

Originally published in the Beacon n December 19, 2022

Workers at the Woodland Pulp mill in Baileyville say that during the pandemic they helped keep the local economy afloat, despite personal risk to themselves and their families, but in return were only given “toilet paper and a t-shirt that said we were ‘essential,’” explained Mark Prenier, a member of United Steelworkers Local 27.

In a video posted to YouTube last week, Premier and two other USW Local 27 members shared some of the challenges they’ve experienced and why they voted earlier this month to strike.

“During COVID we kept production up, we kept production going. You heard all these places that were folding because they couldn’t get materials and a lot of companies depended on materials — the workers in that mill made it happen,” said Glenn Connolly. “They’re the ones that got the trucks out, they’re the ones that got the pulp produced, and because of that the economy survived. Now that we’re asking to help us out, it’s being met with resistance.”

“We ran all through covid without a blip. We staffed the mill no matter what. Many 18-hour shifts, guys out with COVID,” explained Prenier. 

“A lot of companies paid their workers above and beyond because of the dangers. Every one of us could have brought COVID home to our families,” he said, noting they lost a coworker who died after a COVID outbreak at the mill. “What we got during COVID was a thing of toilet paper and a t-shirt that said we were essential on it…I want more than a t-shirt for feeling essential.”

Mill workers in Baileyville Maine fight for a fair contract

According to the Maine AFL-CIO, the millworkers weren’t even offered paid sick time when they came down with COVID. 

Troy Wallace said his work at the mill is “extremely dangerous,” with exposure to a lot of chemicals that could be detrimental to his health. “We’re asked to work long hours, scheduled on your days off for mandatory overtime…we’re looking for a fair wage increase to make an honest living.”

The workers could launch a strike as early as Monday after more 85% of the 123 voting members with United Steelworkers Local 27 voted to reject a contract offer from the company and authorize a strike earlier this month.

According to local USW staff representative Michael Higgins, the mill “offered us very good general wage increases but failed to recognize the cost of living adjustment that we need.”

The union sent a certified letter to the company on Dec. 7 terminating the contract and Higgins said a strike could begin 10 days after the company receives the letter. 

Lauren McCauley is Editor of Maine Beacon. Previously, she was a senior editor at Common Dreams covering national and international politics and progressive news. Lauren also helped produce a number of documentary films, including the award-winning Soundtrack for a Revolution and The Hollywood Complex, as well as one currently in production about civil rights icon James Meredith. Her writing has been featured on Newsweek,, TruthDig, Truthout, In These Times,and Extra! the newsletter of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. She currently lives in Kennebunk with her husband, two children, a dog and several chickens. Lauren can be reached at Lauren(at)

The working class under neo-liberalism / by Prabhat Patnaik

Originally published: Peoples Democracy on December 11, 2022

A NEO-LIBERAL regime entails a spontaneous change in the balance of class power against the working class everywhere. This happens for a number of reasons. First, since capital becomes globally mobile while labour is not, such globally mobile capital gets an opportunity to pit the working class of one country against that of another. If the workers of one country go on strike, then capital has the option of relocating its production at the margin to another country; and its very threat to do so serves to keep down the militancy of the workers in every country.

If the workers had been internationally organised, so that strike actions were not just nationally organised but could occur simultaneously across several countries, then such a threat by capital would not have worked; but class actions by the working class alas are not yet internationally coordinated, because of which such threats work. True, even if workers had been internationally organised, capital could still have threatened to shift production to some entirely new location, but this would have been more difficult from its point of view. The fact that workers even in the current production locations of capital are not internationally organised, works in favour of capital and keeps down the level of militancy in each location.

This is simply an instance of the well-known fact that centralisation of capital is a means of subduing the militancy of workers: since centralisation of capital is typically associated with the deployment of such centralised capital across a set of scattered activities or across scattered geographical locations, militant action by the workers in any particular location or branch of activity faces the threat of capital shifting to another branch or location. Neo-liberal globalisation entails centralisation of capital but with a global dispersion, and hence imposes similar effective restraint upon the militancy of the workers.

The second factor working in the same direction is this: even as activities shift from the metropolis to some countries of the periphery, thereby weakening the workers’ bargaining and striking strength in the metropolis, the vast labour reserves of the periphery do not get exhausted, so that the workers in the periphery acquire no greater strength.

The fact that workers in the metropolis get restrained by being linked to the vast labour reserves of the periphery, which is what neo-liberalism ensures, is well recognised. The increasing gap between the conditions of the metropolitan workers and those in the periphery that had characterised capitalism in the earlier period when it had segmented the world economy into two parts, across which neither labour nor capital moved, can no longer be sustained; but  neo-liberalism had always held out the promise that relocation-aided rapid growth of the peripheral economy, would use up the labour reserves there, i.e., that these reserves which are a legacy of colonialism and semi-colonialism (though neo-liberal ideology does not recognise this fact), would finally dwindle.

This promise however gets belied. In fact rather than reduce the magnitude of labour reserves in the periphery, the neo-liberal regime actually increases it. Neo-liberalism is associated there with an increase in unemployment, though this fact may manifest itself as a reduction in the number of days that each worker works rather than as a decrease in the number of workers employed.

This increase in unemployment follows from two characteristics of neo-liberalism. One is the withdrawal of State support from petty production and peasant agriculture with a view to opening up this sector to encroachment by big capital and agribusiness. The second characteristic is the opening up of the economy to freer cross-border flows of goods and services which greatly increases the compulsion of every producer to introduce technological progress in order to defend market shares against imports. Since saving on labour is the typical form taken by technological progress under capitalism, this means a rise in the rate of growth of labour productivity and hence a decline in the rate of growth of employment. Thus, as displaced peasants and artisans enlarge the number of job-seekers in the capitalist sector of the economy, the growth in the number of jobs shrinks in that sector, causing a swelling of the relative size of labour reserves. This fact weakens the position of the working class in all countries.

The third factor that weakens the position of workers everywhere is the privatisation of public sector units. Workers in public sector units are invariably better organised than those in private sector units, a fact evident from the extent of unionisation in the two sectors. In the US for instance almost a third of public sector employees (including in the sphere of education) are unionised, compared to only about 7 per cent of private sector employees. It follows that privatisation has the effect of subduing working class militancy. This in turn subdues workers’ militancy in the economy as a whole.

It is for this reason that France which still has a sizeable public sector continues to witness militant workers’ struggles. In India where there had been a substantial public sector with a history of glorious struggles, gradual privatisation has made such struggles undoubtedly more difficult; it has led to a shift in the locus of unionisation to the small-scale sector.

What is striking however is not so much the fact that neo-liberalism weakens the working class in its struggle against capital, but that despite this weakening neo-liberalism is witnessing at present an upsurge of workers’ militancy. In Britain rail workers have staged several strikes this year, including, during the previous summer, the biggest strike seen for decades. Even at present, the rail workers have rejected the pay offer made by the employers as being too paltry and are threatening further strike action in December and January. Railway workers however are not alone. Postal workers, nurses, ambulance workers and others have been either engaged in strike action or going to be, so much so that the chairman of the ruling Conservative Party has talked of bringing in the army to run “essential services”. In Germany, port workers, public transport workers, aviation security workers, construction workers, and railway workers have all been either engaged in strikes or are soon going to be. The same is true of other European countries. In other words, the relative quiescence of workers that had characterised the neo-liberal era until now is coming to an end.

The typical explanation for this upsurge of militancy that one comes across in the western press attributes it to inflation. Inflation in turn is believed to have been caused by factors, like the Ukraine war or Covid-induced disruptions in supply chains, that are supposedly wholly extraneous to the functioning of neo-liberal capitalism.

This explanation however is inadequate for two obvious reasons: one, neither the Covid episode nor the Ukraine war is extraneous to the functioning of neo-liberal capitalism. This is clear in the case of the Ukraine war whose genesis lies in the attempt to maintain the hegemony of western imperialism that neo-liberal capitalism also seeks to buttress. But even the Covid episode is not extraneous to neo-liberal capitalism: its sweep and intensity owe much to the western reluctance to part with monopoly control over vaccine technology; besides, even the origin of Covid, it now appears from the report of a Lancet-appointed committee, has been in a laboratory which could well make it a fall-out of military-linked research on behalf of imperialism.

The second reason why the current inflation is not extraneous to neo-liberal capitalism is the following. Capitalist crises have this characteristic that attempts to resolve them often simply lead to crises in a different form. The tendency towards over-production that neo-liberal capitalism has generated because of the rise in the share of surplus in output in the world capitalist economy as a whole, as well as in individual capitalist economies, has been sought to be overcome for a long time in the US, the leading metropolitan country, by keeping interest rates close to zero and pumping in huge amounts of liquidity into the economy through what is called “quantitative easing”.

Now, capitalists, in deciding any course of action, evaluate the risks associated with that course. The availability of huge amounts of liquidity at very low interest rates greatly reduces the risks for corporates associated with jacking up their profit margins. This is why several American corporations at the first opportunity jacked up their margins, precipitating the current inflation. Other factors no doubt played a role but this basic cause of the current inflation must not be forgotten.

It is this direct assault on their living standards that workers everywhere are vehemently protesting against. This assault in turn is symptomatic of the dead-end of neo-liberalism.

Prabhat Patnaik is an Indian political economist and political commentator. His books include Accumulation and Stability Under Capitalism (1997), The Value of Money (2009), and Re-envisioning Socialism (2011).

MR Online, December 10, 2022,

Railroad struggle reminds us, interfering in the right to strike is never okay / by Carl Wood

Joe Shearer/The Daily Nonpareil/AP

Yes, a strike of railroad workers could bring the national economy to a halt, including stopping the flow of millions of dollars a day in profits to the railroad companies. But let’s keep in mind that it’s big business —not workers—that has crashed the nation’s economy at least three times in recent memory. There was the dot com bubble, driven by venture capitalists in 2002. In the Great Recession of 2008, it was the subprime loan industry. And this year monopoly price gouging—especially in the oil industry—is inflicting inflation pain on the nation. In none of these cases did Congress act against the culprits.

It’s never been clearer who the ruling class of this country is than when Congress and the president respect big business’s rights but are quick to sacrifice those of workers.

The fact that a strike by railroad unions—collective action by more than 100,000 workers—will impact the economy, including bosses’ profits, is exactly their leverage. Isn’t that what a strike is all about? Being denied the right to strike is like being put in a boxing ring and the referee saying you have to keep our hands at your sides and you’re not allowed to punch, but your opponent has no restrictions.

This isn’t the first time that the railroad industry has used government power against the workers. Railroads are the oldest U.S. monopoly, going back over a century-and-a-half, and they are still crucial to the economy. There is a long history of attempts of the workers to organize and of government interventions.

Prior to legislation in the 1920s and ‘30s, the usual forms of government intervention were injunctions and armed repression by state militias, the National Guard, federal troops, and private goons protected by all of the above. A lot of this is recounted in the book Labor’s Untold Story, which details the smashed railroad strikes of 1877 and 1894.

In 1946, and again in 1950, President Harry Truman issued executive orders and signed emergency legislation overriding the guaranteed right to negotiation (after a lengthy cooling-off period) contained in the Railway Labor Act.

Most of the important rail strikes in this country’s history occurred during economic downturns, when labor was at a disadvantage anyway. What’s different about 2022 is that there is a tight labor market, for once creating a favorable negotiating environment for workers. That makes “even-handed” government intervention all the more pernicious and intrinsically anti-labor. No wonder the railroad corporations immediately embraced Biden’s call for anti-strike legislation, while most union leaders did not.

Fascist danger

Nevertheless, it’s hard to discount concerns about the political ramifications of the economic disruption that would result from a rail strike in today’s political scene where fascism is a real threat.

Fascism is now embodied in the Republican Party, which represents the most extreme and dangerous elements of finance capital, powered by racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. The capitalist forces in this array include oil and coal, arms and prison industries, and the biggest transnational monopolies. Through their financial networks of banks, venture capitalists, hedge funds, and tech monopolies, they control and profit from big segments of the economy—including the railroad industry, the nation’s most profitable industry with a 50% profit margin.

The fascist danger is always on the agenda with regard to electoral issues: it’s hard to contemplate doing anything that would strengthen the MAGA forces in the political field. But for forces in the anti-MAGA coalition to side with the big corporations on such an important workers rights issue is itself going to create divisions in the anti-fascist forces.

The problem is that Biden’s position to deny workers’ right to strike actually makes the fascist danger greater. Why? Because it increases working-class disenchantment and cynicism, particularly—but not only—among the youth.

Progressive pro-worker legislators, who constitute a strong and growing—but far from majority—influence, are between a rock and a hard place on this.

No substitute for a negotiated contract

Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to add seven days sick leave to the imposed contract was a useful initiative that workers’ rights supporters could rally around. But it is not a substitute for a negotiated contract ratified by the affected workers. Sanders’ proposal passed the House as a separate bill but it failed in the Senate while the anti-strike legislation passed.

There’s a need for cleareyed, unambiguous partisanship. After all, political alliances are based on issues, and on this one the working class has a fundamental issue with cancelling the right to strike.

We’ve got to defend the working class. However, to defend the class is more than attacking corporate Dems: We’ve got to continually raise the issue of building the movement. Had there been more pressure on the ground, Biden and Pelosi would never have dared to impose this settlement, as seen by Pelosi’s about face after Sanders’ and others’ pushback.

Still on the table is the fundamental principle that interfering with the right to strike—whether it’s by the troops, courts, or legislation—can never be an option.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

Carl Wood is a retired union leader and a member of the Labor Commission of the Communist Party.

People’s World, December 2, 2022,

To protect fragile economy, report argues Maine must do more for workers / by Evan Popp

A recent report found that although Maine bounced back quickly from the pandemic-induced downturn, that recovery has masked “continued underlying weaknesses in the economy.” 

Challenges identified in the Maine Center for Economic Policy’s annual “State of Working Maine” report include that many jobs continue to lack basic labor protections — even as workers increasingly assert their power and demand improved standards — and that wage growth has been stymied by high inflation. 

The study, authored by MECEP economist James Myall, found that Maine has enjoyed a near-full recovery from the economic shock created by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with employment almost back to pre-pandemic levels and the state GDP higher than before the crisis. Myall credited the recovery in part to an aggressive fiscal response by the federal government, which provided states and people with funds during the pandemic through various programs.

In all, Maine’s economic bounce back from the crisis was much faster than the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008. After that crisis, the state’s employment and GDP levels lagged behind pre-2008 levels until 2016, which Myall attributed in part to austerity policies, which took place primarily under the LePage administration.  

Still, the report found that the recovery from the pandemic is fragile and has hidden several warning signs for Maine’s economy. 

Inflation blunting impact of wage growth 

One significant problem is inflation, which is higher in the U.S. than at any point in the last 40 years. While a strong labor market has improved wages for Maine workers, the report found that the “rapidly rising cost of living has dulled the benefit” of that higher pay. For example, although wages for middle income workers in Maine have increased by 18% in the last three years, inflation has risen by nearly 13% over that same period. That creates an actual wage growth of just under 5% for workers during that time, which Myall writes is “much more modest than the substantial increase indicated in many news headlines.” 

Wages not rising enough to significantly outpace inflation is of particular concern in the child care and direct care industries, the report states. People in both occupations have been chronically underpaid for years, leading to a shortage of such workers. The market has failed to rectify the problem, Myall said, calling for intervention from the state to raise those workers’ wages and provide subsidies for those who need to access services. And while the state has acted to increase child care and direct care employees’ pay, Myall argued it might not be enough to attract workers to the industry, especially given the continued issue of inflation. 

Those in the industry are also calling for better working conditions to attract more potential employees. 

“Our early childhood education system is sinking. There are so many families in Maine with no options for child care,” Terri Crocker, the owner of Creative Play Childcare in Bath, says in the report.  

Given the economic landscape, the Working Maine study makes several recommendations to improve workers wages against inflation. The first is to preserve and expand the state’s minimum wage, which is currently tied to the cost of living. However, MECEP has found that by going beyond that and raising the minimum wage to $16 an hour by 2025, Maine would increase pay for over 350,000 workers and make strides in addressing economic inequality. 

Myall also recommends paying direct care workers adequately and requiring employers to be transparent on job applications about the wages that potential workers can expect to receive. 

Worker protections must be strengthened 

Another challenge to the seemingly strong economic recovery is that labor protections remain scant for too many workers, according to the report. Myall notes that the pandemic caused many workers to reevaluate their relationship to their job, resulting in a significant number leaving for new positions. The amount of Mainers quitting and being hired for new positions recently hit its highest point in two decades, the report found. Higher wages are the prime motivation for workers switching jobs, along with affordable health care, more predictable hours and paid time off. 

Given this amount of labor “churn,” Myall argued there is more to be done to improve working conditions for Mainers. Some moderate improvements have been made over the years, including when Maine’s paid time off law took effect in 2022. That law caused the number of Mainers who get paid time off to increase from 33% in the five years preceding the pandemic to 54% this year. 

Still, that means a substantial number of Mainers continue to face the potential of financial struggles if they have to take time off for illness, caring for a loved one, or other reasons, Myall pointed out. He argued that the paid time off law should be broadened to encompass more workers and should also include provisions to protect against retaliation, which the statute currently lacks. A bill to bar retaliation by employers against workers who use paid time off was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2022. 

An additional recommendation for improving labor standards is to create a fair workweek standard, which would require business to create predictable schedules for workers. Unpredictable schedules, Myall states, have been shown to negatively impact workers’ bottom line as well as their physical and mental health.

A recent rally in support of Chipotle workers in Augusta | Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989 via Facebook

Another policy that would improve workers’ lives is paid family and medical leave, which allows employees to take time off work for a longer period of time. That differentiates it from paid time off, which covers short-term leave. Maine will have a chance to create a paid family and medical leave system in 2023, either through legislative action or via the ballot box, as advocates (including Maine People’s Alliance, of which Beacon is a project) are gathering signatures for a potential referendum. 

In discussing how labor standards can be improved, Myall noted the increased leverage workers have right now, as businesses and other employers seek to fill positions. 

Much of that power has manifested in increased unionization activity in Maine and nationwide, as workers seek to form collective bargaining units in various industries, including at stores operated by corporate giants such as Chipotle and Starbucks. Worker power has reached heights not seen in decades, MECEP found. 

“Now that the country has seen how valuable we are, it’s time for us to demand that we are cared for as well as workers in any other industry,” Brandi McNease, who helped lead a recent unionization campaign at a Chipotle in Augusta, said in the report. 

Still, the study found that “as much as worker power has increased, it is still eclipsed by the clout of many corporations and businesses,” with employers often fighting back hard against unionization efforts. 

To address such challenges, the report recommends that policymakers guarantee the right to unionize in Maine without interference by bosses. Myall also calls for an improvement to the bargaining power of public sector unions in Maine. Arbitration decisions on wages and benefits for workers in such unions are not currently binding, which allows employers to often ignore workers’ demands. Public sector union workers in Maine are also not allowed to strike, which undermines their leverage, Myall argues. 

Finally, the report recommends that agricultural workers be allowed to form unions. Such workers have long been denied basic labor protections, including the right to form a collective bargaining unit or even be considered employees under state wage and hour laws. A bill passed by the legislature that would have allowed farmworkers to unionize was vetoed by Mills in January.

Structural barriers keep too many out of workforce 

Another issue Maine faces is that some people can’t participate fully — or at all — in the labor market. Some barriers to employment that Mainers face include health issues, caregiving responsibilities, fewer labor opportunities in rural areas and continued structural racism, according to the study. There are jobs available for such people, Myall found, and including them in the labor market would improve the economy without lowering wages for existing workers. 

One indication of Maine’s problems with full workforce participation is that there are fewer prime-age people — 25 to 54-year-olds — participating in the labor market than prior to the pandemic. That dip has not manifested fully in Maine’s overall employment numbers since older workers are staying employed longer, the study found. 

Myall states in the report that a reduced number of prime age people in the workforce often indicates that “people are either discouraged about their ability to find a job with a sustainable wage or in some way prevented from working (for example, a health condition, lack of child care, or transportation issue).” 

Furthermore, asylum-seekers are currently barred from requesting a work permit for 180 days, preventing another segment of people from joining the labor force. 

“I want to have a house and take care of myself, my friends, and my family. It’s difficult to support myself without working,” Gervin Kah, an asylum-seeker in Maine, said in the report. 

To address these issues in the workforce, the report argues that the state has to help prime age people return to the labor force while also supporting older Mainers who want to keep working and allowing those who want to retire to do so with security. 

There are a number of policy recommendations that could help with this goal, including continuing public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, encouraging employers to make accommodations for those with long COVID, increasing access to health care systems (including mental health services), creating a comprehensive subsidy for child care, maintaining funding for free community college, and enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the workforce. 

“Maine lawmakers have the opportunity to build on the momentum begun by workers themselves and reshape the economy in a way that works for all of us — an economy that fairly compensates workers and ensures all work is respected with fundamental rights,” Myall writes.

Photo: A sign at a rally earlier this year to support the Maine Medical Center nurses’ union | Beacon 

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

Beacon, October, October 19, 2022,

Maine workers celebrate Labor Day amid wave of union organizing / by Dan Neumann

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)

Opinion: A long history of collective struggle in Maine’s restaurant industry / by Andy O’Brien

Photo: Corey Templeton | Creative Commons via Flickr

Originally published in the Beacon:

High staff turnover rates in restaurants also make it difficult to maintain worker power to establish organizing committees and maintain it through the long drawn out process of getting workers to sign union cards, winning the secret ballot election and negotiating a contract, as employers often drag their feet until a year passes and they can run a decertification campaign. Employers will also exploit divisions between dining room and kitchen staff.

It has been deeply inspiring to witness the efforts of workers at Starbucks in Biddeford and Chipotle in Augusta to organize their workplaces in an industry that is notorious for low wages and a difficult work environment. But as these union drives have shown, corporations will go to extreme lengths to stop employees from organizing, including firing organizers and closing the business in blatant violation of our weak labor laws.

As of 2020, the food service industry had one of the lowest unionization rates of any sector in the US — just 1.2%, compared to 10.8% of all wage and salary workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s why it’s so impressive that food service workers in Maine and across the country are winning union elections against all odds. But this isn’t the first time restaurant workers in Maine have risen up and organized and it certainly won’t be the last.

A History of Struggle

As early as the 1890s, Maine restaurant and hotel workers began organizing and forming worker organizations known as “labor and benefit” orders, according to labor historian Charlie Scontras. In 1919, members of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America (HERE) established locals in Augusta and Portland. Then in 1928, the Portland local brought HERE’s international president, Edward Flore, and an organizer to the city where they were reportedly “met with good success, adding several new houses to the fair list and strengthening the Local.”

Two years later, in 1930, the Portland Central Labor Union, a precursor to the Southern Maine Labor Council, funded an organizer to help establish a HERE local, but it failed to survive “due to the lack of interest in this class of workers.”

However, union activity in Maine dramatically increased with the passage of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which created the fundamental right of workers to organize, and the Maine State Federation of Labor (MSFL), a precursor to the Maine AFL-CIO, successfully convinced HERE to send another organizer. The Teamsters in Portland even passed a resolution at that time refusing to patronize non-union restaurants in the city.

The main driving force for organizing efforts in the 1930s was that wages were incredibly low and Maine still didn’t have a minimum wage law. Jesse W. Taylor, Maine’s Commissioner for Labor and Industry, observed in 1939 that many workers in restaurants and other female-dominated industries in Maine earned just $5 a week ($106 adjusted for inflation) for 54 to 64 hours of work. At the very least, Taylor argued that the state should establish a 25-cent per hour minimum wage law for women and minors.

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act didn’t cover restaurant workers, and Maine was one of the last states in New England to pass a minimum wage law in 1959, but it still didn’t cover restaurant servers.

Just like today, wage theft and blacklisting were very common in the restaurant industry. Taylor pointed to one case where a restaurant owner refused to pay a young woman who worked 72 hours in one week because, the employer argued, she was leaving the job.

“We had proof she had worked over time. The books at the restaurant can be checked,” said Taylor. “She went in court and testified. It cost the employer $36 in court and she was blacklisted and could not get a job anywhere in the city. Violations have been going on elsewhere. They would like to go to court, but do not dare to.”

Speaking to the MSFL Convention in 1954, Maine’s Labor Commissioner lamented the state’s failure to pass minimum wage legislation and said that workers didn’t come out and testify in support of it in great numbers because they were likely afraid of losing their jobs.

HERE continued to support union organizing drives throughout the 1950s, but the anti-union legal system unfortunately chilled the momentum. In 1954, workers established HERE Local 390 at Theodore’s Lobster House in Portland (later DiMillo’s Lobster House) which led to a court injunction banning picketing of the establishment that was later upheld by the Maine Supreme Court. This blatant suppression of free speech ignited the labor movement to demand a state level Labor Relations Act to protect restaurant, hotel and retail workers, who were not covered under federal labor laws.

At the 1954 MSFL convention, workers claimed that the Portland Chamber of Commerce had even sent letters “asking all restaurants apparently to keep labor organizations away from their doors.” The convention voted to drop Portland from its list of recommended convention sites in 1956 in solidarity with restaurant workers.

One HERE worker organizer in Portland noted that restaurant workers earned as low as 22 cents an hour and that the Eastland Hotel even imposed “fines” on workers that “sometimes completely consumes the weekly pay.” In a letter to a state legislator in 1965, the organizer wrote:

“The State of Maine is called ‘Vacationland.’ A vacationland needs tourists and these tourists need accommodations. We, the workers of the Hotel and Restaurant Industry provide the services needed for these accommodations. Yet, we are the most sorely neglected citizens of this state. We work a 54-hour week for as little as $.25, $.35, and $.50 cents an hour.

Are we not as good citizens of our country as they are? Must we receive less pay because we work in Maine? Because of a few who have the financial power … must we remain 65 years behind the rest of the country?”

In the late 1970s, there was another resurgence of organizing in the restaurant industry. As one supporter of the unionization effort wrote in Maine Labor News:

“Would you like to work for exactly one half the legal minimum wage? Would you like overtime being at 46 rather than 40 hours per week? Would you like to work on a piecework system largely at the mercy of supervisors who play favorites?

Would you like to be sent home without pay because there isn’t ‘enough work’ on your shift without compensation? Would you like to have no pension plan, no medical benefits, no paid holidays or sick pay? If you enjoy the terms of such employment you could work for a job as a waitress or waiter anywhere in the state.

Would you like to sink hundreds of dollars into an education at a trade school in culinary arts only to find that you are not making enough money on the Job after graduation to pay for your education?

Would you like to wash dishes, clean motel rooms, scour pots, or bus tables for $2.30 an hour? If you have answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, you, too, could qualify for work in the hotel or restaurant business.”

The most successful union drive of the 1970s was on August 3, 1977 when servers, bartenders and kitchen staff at the Roundhouse Motor Inn in Auburn voted to form a union with HERE. In the 1980s, it was sole unionized restaurant in the state and union workers often patronized it, including holding meetings there during the International Paper Strike of ’87-88.

However, workers trying to organize the Portland Red Coach Grille and Convention Center in 1976 faced much more difficult odds after the business fired a lead organizer, setting off a year of unfair labor practice complaints, appeals, staff turnover and rampant union busting that culminated in a defeat for the union. With the anti-union climate of the 1980s and 90s, it wasn’t until the 21st century that restaurant workers briefly began organizing again with the establishment of the Southern Maine Workers Center in the mid 2000s.

But given the increasing passion of restaurant workers for collective action in the 2020s, perhaps we can look forward to patronizing more unionized restaurants and hotels in Maine in the near future!

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on the Maine AFL-CIO’s blog. Most of the information in this article was gathered from the book “Maine Labor in the Age of Deindustrialization and Global Markets: 1955 – 2005” by Charles Scontras. 

Andy O’Brien is the communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, a statewide federation of 160 local unions representing 40,000 workers. However, his opinions are his own and don’t represent the views of his employer. He is also a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445.

Beacon, August 11, 2022,