Veteran Union Organizer Matthew Emmick Hired as Scontras Center Director / by Andy O’Brien

Image Credit: Maine AFL-CIO News

Originally published in the Maine AFL-CIO News on May 19, 2023

We are excited to announce the hiring of Matthew Emmick as the new director of the Charles A. Scontras Labor & Community Education Center at the University of Southern Maine. Emmick comes to the position with extensive experience organizing farmworkers, nurses and others.

Emmick grew up in a union household in a blue collar neighborhood in Indiana. His father was mechanic and a member of the Teamsters. Right after college, he volunteered to build and repair houses for elderly and low-income people in West Virginia before going to work for the National Farm Worker Ministry in North Carolina organizing churches to support farmworker union organizing campaigns. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he worked for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) as an organizer for workers in the cucumber fields of Eastern North Carolina.

He helped lead a national boycott of the Mt. Olive Pickle Company to pressure the company to recognize the union and organized a group of 40 workers and supporters to march to the door step of the crew leader’s house to demand he pay the wages he owed. The organizing efforts helped lay the groundwork for a collective bargaining agreement in 2004 that covers nearly 7,000 farmworkers in the state.

Matthew Emmick

Emmick went on to work for the Teamsters as an organizer and business agent in North Carolina and Chicago and National Nurses United in Florida. He helped hundreds of workers win union elections in agriculture, health care and education, including companies like Hertz Rental, Holiday Inn and more.

“The exposure to see how different people live has really informed my worldview, from working for a catering comparing serving wealthy people from the upper echelons of society to going to the largest slum in Africa and working with farmworkers and seeing how they live and struggle,” he said

As the Scontras Center Director Emmick will serve both existing union leaders and members and the broader Maine working class, including low wage workers and Maine immigrant workers. The Center seeks to serve as a popular education and training hub for workers to develop the knowledge, skills and organizing capacity to be full participants in our democracy and the economy.

As the Center’s Director, Emmick says he plans to explore topics that are critical to workers such as housing. He also would like to explore how labor issues, such as working conditions for health care workers and nurse staffing ratios, impact the broader community.

“Certain issues that may not seem like labor issues like housing and nurse-to-patient ratios may not seem like a community issue, but they really are,” said Emmick. “So part of my vision for the center will be to bring all of those issues together and provide a space for workers to discuss these issues while also providing the historical context.”

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.

Tell Legislators to Support Strong Labor Standards for Offshore Wind / by Andy O’Brien

Originally published in the Maine AFL-CIO News on May 19, 2023

Building an offshore wind industry in Maine has the potential to create thousands of good union jobs for Mainers while bringing affordable clean energy to tens of thousands across our state. Building a port is critical to launching offshore wind in Maine.

By asking your legislators to support LD 1818, you will play a role in making sure critical port facilities (1) create good union jobs for working Maine families, (2) adopt clean-air and other environmental standards to protect nearby port communities, and (3) build a prosperous economy that works for all of us.

Learn more here, and take action below by reaching out to your Maine Senator & Representative.

Click here to ask your legislators to support strong labor standards

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.

Info-Picketing Starbucks Stores for Valentine’s Day / by CP Maine Staff

Today, Starbucks workers and their allies were out in front of over one hundred stores across the nation, explaining to customers that union-busting not only hurts workers, but customers too.

Biddeford Maine Starbucks |

They informed customers about the impact of the company’s reduction of labor hours on customer service and working conditions. This, they explained, was the reason for the longer wait times customers are experiencing. They asked customers for their support, requesting that they sign the “No Contract, No Coffee Pledge.”

Customers received flyers that stated, “Starbucks thinks there are too many workers making your order, so they are cutting labor and you are paying the price. Same cost to you, but double the wait times, and less time connecting with our community.”

Handing out flyers outside the Starbucks store on Congress Street in Portland, Maine, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) supporters said that their interactions with customers and other passersby were overwhelmingly positive.

Valentine’s Day may be all about “sharing the love,” but today Starbucks workers and allies decided to share with the people “the love they lack from the company whose profits are soaring.”

“Starbucks is cutting labor hours despite record breaking profits year after year,” according to a recent SBWU statement, “[t]his causes workers to be financially stressed and overworked, and it causes customers to experience significantly longer wait times. We’re asking customers to stand with the over 7,000 baristas who have joined Starbucks Workers United as we fight this retaliation.”

The SBWU is making good on its promise to increase its efforts to enlist the company’s customers as allies in its nationwide organizing drive.

The SBWU is asking supporters to sign this pledge:

Starbucks Workers United

Community aid groups scramble as coming cold snap puts unhoused people at risk / by Evan Popp

Photo: Francisco Javier Medina Gomez/ Creative Commons

Originally publishd in the Maine Beacon on February 1, 2023

Temperatures are set to drop precipitously in Maine later this week, creating dangerous conditions for unhoused people, with community aid groups scrambling to find shelter and services for those in need. 

An Arctic front will bring harsh cold to the state Friday and Saturday, and temperatures are projected to reach as low as 30 and 40 degrees below zero with the wind chill factored in. 

Maine’s annual point-in-time count of unhoused people from 2022 found that 4,441 people were homeless in January of that year, a sharp increase from the year before—meaning that thousands will likely be in danger from the upcoming weather system. 

That comes as Maine’s housing crisis — a significant contributing factor to homelessness — continues to escalate, with prices rising and thousands of people on voucher waiting lists. Further, evictions in the state rose 27% in 2022 over the previous year, with the end of emergency rental assistance contributing to that growth. At the same time, advocates have argued that cities such as Bangor, Portland and other local communities — along with state government —haven’t done enough to set up services to help unhoused people and have instead sometimes resorted to clearing out homeless encampments, leaving gaps that mutual aid organizations have attempted to fill.    

In Bangor, for example, the group Needlepoint Sanctuary of Maine — in conjunction with other community aid organizations — is raising funds this week to provide warmth and shelter during the coming cold snap. The organization, which has long done mutual aid work at homeless encampments in the Bangor area, is looking to raise $5,000. 

“Across Maine temperatures will plummet this weekend,” the group’s fundraiser reads. “For many Mainers this will mean a few days of bundling up on the way to work and hunkering down at home, but for community members experiencing homelessness or insecure housing, this cold snap could result in death if they are unable to find shelter.” 

Needlepoint said the money raised will go toward buying hotel rooms for unhoused people in Bangor as well as Sanford, with any additional funds going to buying food and warm gear for unhoused people and creating care packages for partner organizations to distribute. Questions can be directed to or by calling 207-370-4782. 

The group is also calling on local municipalities to address the coming cold weather by working with the community to create additional warming centers to provide shelter overnight from Thursday evening until Sunday morning. 

The Bangor Daily News reported Tuesday that there are five warning centers currently operating in the city. Those include the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter at 263 Main Street, the Union Street Brick Church at 126 Union Street, the Mansion Church at 96 Center Street, the River Church at 146 Center Street and the Bangor Public Library at 145 Harlow Street. 

In addition, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor is allowing Needlepoint Sanctuary to run an overnight warming shelter at its church at 120 Park Street. That shelter will be in operation from 6 p.m. to noon Thursday into Friday, 6 p.m. to noon Friday into Saturday, and 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday into Sunday. The group is looking for volunteers to sign up for four hour shifts during those times.

A list of statewide emergency shelters can be found here. In addition, other communities are already setting up plans to create pop-up warming shelters during the cold snap.

Another place that will be providing help this weekend is Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and Services in Waterville. Katie Spencer White, CEO of that group, said in addition to its 48-bed shelter, the organization will be operating a warming shelter staying open 24 hours a day this weekend to help people survive the cold. The warming center and the group’s shelter are located at 19 Colby Street in Waterville. 

Spencer White added that the organization’s facilities are low-barrier, meaning they don’t have sobriety tests and also accept people with pets. She said that is a rarity among shelters in Maine, with only a handful of low-barrier options receiving funding.

Spencer White said she’s often asked at times like these what people can do to help. While supplies such as clothing and food can be useful, she said financial donations are the most beneficial. While the group’s homeless shelter receives funding, warming centers don’t generally receive external support, Spencer White explained, making the continued operation of such centers reliant on donations and community aid. 

Moving forward, Spencer White said she would like to see more state and federal help for shelters and warming centers as policymakers also work to create affordable housing to address homelessness in the long-run.

“We solve homelessness through housing,” she said. “But it is also the case that we need good shelter options today, and we would like to see more investment.” 

Groups in the Portland area are also mobilizing in preparation for the cold temperatures. One such organization is the grassroots community organization Maine Needs, which this week is asking for donations of warm blankets; zero degree sleeping bags; waterproof mittens and gloves; waterproof boots; hand and toe warmers; and gift cards to stores such as True Value, Hannaford and Walmart to help people fill up propane tanks. The group can receive donations Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with hours going until 7 p.m. on Tuesday) and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at 332 Forest Avenue in Portland. 

There will also be several warming shelters available in Portland during the cold weather, including the First Parish Church at 425 Congress Street on Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and the Downtown library at 5 Monument Square on Friday until 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

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

Maine News: Stop the Privatization of VA Medical Services for Rural Maine Veterans! / by Andy O’Brien

Image credit: Maine Preservation

Medical services for rural veterans at the Togus VA Medical Center in Chelsea are slated to be consolidated, privatized and outsourced to other parts of the state as part of a series of recommendations put forth in a report released by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The document calls for a massive nationwide consolidation and reorganization of veteran’s services.

“If the closure recommendations take effect millions of veterans needing surgery, intensive care, emergency care, substance abuse treatment, skilled nursing home care and inpatient mental health care will be forced to rely on private hospitals that have little to no specialized experience in meeting the unique needs of America’s veterans” per a statement from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

The plan for Maine would convert the hospital at Togus into an urgent care center and then partially privatize and move the emergency room, inpatient medical, surgical services and nursing home services to Portland and other parts of Maine. The report also recommends closing the Rumford community-based outpatient clinic and the Bingham VA Mobile Unit and relocating those services to a new community-based outpatient clinic in Farmington. The VA is also calling for the closure of VA clinics in Houlton and Fort Kent and outsourcing those services to private clinics.

In addition, the VA recommends removing the community living services from Augusta to Portland, but the VA is actually in the process of building a new nursing home on the Togus campus.

The report is pending review by the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, a board created by the 2018 VA MISSION Act, a bill designed to promote vast privatization of VA healthcare. 

If approved, Sec. McDonough’s recommendations would:

  • Close large segments of the VA health care system, including at least 17 integrated VA medical centers around the country.
  • Destroy tens of thousands of union jobs in communities across the country.
  • Deny veterans their preferred choice in health care providers.
  • Force our military veterans to find their own care from a patchwork of for-profit providers.

Currently, over one-third of all veterans’ medical visits have already been sent outside of the VA system and more than a quarter of VA healthcare dollars have already been diverted to the private, for-profit sector as a result of the VA MISSION Act. AFGE estimates that one-third of the union jobs at the VA that the AIR commission would destroy are held by veterans themselves.

VA leadership in Washington claims that these drastic measures are necessary because the veteran’s population is shifting to southern Maine, but it will also require rural Maine veterans to drive several more hours for services that may not suit their unique needs. There is currently no federal funding allocated to make these dramatic changes.

It’s time for VA workers, veterans, and all Americans to demand that our local, state, and national leaders put a stop to this assault on veterans’ care. It’s time to let the air out of the AIR Commission, halt the Senate confirmation of AIR commissioners, and repeal Title 2 of the MISSION Act. Closing VA facilities must be entirely off the table.


Andy O’Brien is lifelong Mainer, writer, former Maine state legislator, and former editor of The Free Press, a newspaper covering midcoast Maine. He covered Maine state politics for nine years with a focus on Lincoln, Knox, and Waldo counties. He is also the communications director of the Maine AFL-CIO but is speaking in his own capacity and is not representing his employer.

Maine AFL-CIO, May 26, 2022,

Opinion: The Maine GOP doesn’t care about the lives of trans kids / by Ethan Strimling

Photo: A chalk drawing of the Transgender Pride Flag | MaineTransNet

In case you missed the news last week, the GOP ran one of the most disgusting culture-war ads we have seen in Maine in decades. In a shameless attempt to damage Democratic incumbent Gov. Janet Mills, the Maine Republican Party attacks an elementary school teacher for creating a lesson plan on LGBTQ history, struggles, and acceptance. 

The writing lesson, titled “Freedom Holidays,” is framed around holidays celebrating the freedoms of different groups of Americans: July 4th, freedom from Britain; Junteenth, freedom from enslavement; Women’s Equality Day celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment. 

The teacher, Kailina Mills, then describes the people behind the acronym LGBTQ. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual. When she gets to “Transgender,” she explains how some people discover that the gender a doctor gave them at birth may not feel right later in life. She teaches about how LGBTQ Americans were legally discriminated against throughout much of our history and then, on June 26, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court said that people of the same gender could love and marry whomever they choose. She finishes by assigning the students an essay to write about three LGBTQ activists of their choosing who led the fight for equal rights.

The teacher, in describing why she created the lesson plan, cited a 2020 study that found that gender identity is established by first grade. She said, “Those children and those families deserve to be represented in their school curriculum. Public schools are for everyone and should, therefore, include everyone.” 

The Maine GOP, on the other hand, calls this writing lesson about tolerance and acceptance, “radical” and “wrong for our kids.” They have put thousands of dollars behind their ad shaming the teacher and driving families with LGBTQ kids and their parents back into the closet. 

That same study found that almost all trans people, by first grade, dealt with significant stress around being a different gender than they were prescribed. Eighty-two percent of those questioning their gender consider suicide. Forty percent percent try. Too many are successful.

Shaming teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues and driving trans families into the shadows means more may try to kill themselves.

All so the Maine GOP can raise money and fire up their base in their campaign for the governorship.

Sadly, it must be noted that Governor Mills’ response to the attack was cowardly. Instead of standing up to the bigotry and showing Maine people she will defend our most vulnerable, she caved and voiced support for taking the lesson plan down. 

That said, there is a difference between being a coward in the face of a bully, and being the bully. Especially a bully who is putting the lives of our youth in danger.

Not only do all of Maine’s children deserve to be included in our curriculum, it is literally a matter of life and death. And right now the Maine GOP has chosen death. 

Ethan Strimling served ten years as Mayor and State Senator for Portland, Maine.

Maine Beacon, May 24, 2022,

Maine News: Crowd Rallies in Portland for Abortion Rights, Calls Out Collins / by Bonnie Washuck

Alison Whitney, 84, of South Paris holds a protest sign while sitting in a lawn chair at Canal Plaza in Portland on Saturday | Ben McCanna/ Staff Photographer, PPH

About 200 demonstrate outside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office downtown, and many want Roe v. Wade to be codified under federal law.

A crowd of about 200 people rallied for abortion rights Saturday afternoon outside U.S. Se Susan Collins’ downtown Portland office, joining a national backlash against Maine’s senior senator for her votes to confirm U.S. Supreme Court justices who appear poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

Rose Dubois of York led the crowd with chants.

“When abortion rights are under attack, what do we do?” she said.

“Stand up! Fight back!” the crowd answered.

Many of those at the demonstration held homemade signs, including one that read “Being forced to wear masks goes against your rights? Imagined being forced to carry a pregnancy.”

Another read: “Susan, we’re looking at you!”

Collins, a self-styled abortion-rights moderate, was the deciding vote in 2018 to place Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court bench. She also supported conservative Neil Gorsuch for the high court. Both made private pledges to her to respect the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Collins said. But this past week a leaked draft opinion indicated that both justices would vote to overturn the precedent.

Collins on Tuesday issued a statement saying their assurances were “completely inconsistent” with the draft opinion. Emails to her office were not returned Saturday. Collins says she supports federal legislation to protect abortion rights, but not a measure that the Democrats are pushing.

At the rally on Saturday, Devyn Shaughnessy of Portland said Collins “has betrayed us in the past, but this is a pivotal moment where she has the opportunity to codify Roe v. Wade.” Votes are needed to protect abortion rights under federal law, and if Collins and a fellow Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, do not vote to do so, “they’ll have blood on their hands,” Shaughnessy.

Jo Ophardt, a member of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, leads a group of about 200 people in a chant during protest in favor of reproductive rights on Saturday in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Under the draft opinion, abortion policy would be left up to the states, so which ever political party is in power could decide if it’s legal. “People are saying, ‘Maine’s ok. We’re okay for now,” Shaughnessy said. But in upcoming elections if Republicans take control and Maine “turns red, we’ll be in trouble,” she said.

One of the speakers at the rally was Dave Aceto of Portland who urged men to join the abortion conversation. They should not just show up with flowers on Mother’s Day, he said. Sons, brothers, and husbands should stick up for abortion rights of women.”

“Men where are you?” he said.

Abortion is a human right. Abortion is a health issue,” Aceto added. “To men I say it is time for you get involved. It is all of our voices that will keep abortions legal, safe and readily available.”

And to cheers he said:  “The days of white men having control over people’s bodies must end.”

Another speaker was Jeanne Lafferty of Portland, who remembers when abortion was illegal in the early 1970s. “We made it legal,” Lafferty said. “I have another question for you. Can we do it again?”

The crowd yelled “yes.”

The fight for abortion rights will have to be an ongoing, inclusive, national movement, she said.

What won’t work, Lafferty and others warned, is a few protests, a few demonstrations and marches, but then the anger fades and people “go home.”

What’s needed, said Portland City Councilor Victoria Pelletier, is consistency and bravery. She said the establishment will be ready for protests, chants and anger, but it’s not prepared for consistent, weekly messages.

She gave the crowd a list of steps to take, including a May 14 Day of Action by a Planned Parenthood committee that is looking for people to knock on doors during the day.

Pelletier also told rally participants to  “give our girl Sue a call” at her Washington office and urge her to protect abortion rights. Ans she encouraged them to write letters to Maine’s congressional delegation every week. Calling and writing again and again may not seem like it will make a difference, but it will, she said.

Abigail Forcier of Lyman said she attended the rally because “it’s most important to me that women retain the right to control their own bodies.” She also wants Roe v. Wade codified in federal law.

“Collins needs to really rally for that, to be a big a part of making that happen, and to speak for women everywhere,” Forcier said.

Originally published in the Portland Press Herald, May 8, 2022,

Maine News: Report calls for Maine to decriminalize drugs, outlines dangers of punishing substance use / by Evan Popp

A State House rally in 2021 for drug decriminalization | Beacon 

Drug decriminalization would lead to far better health outcomes for people with substance use disorder while also saving Maine millions currently spent on punishment and incarceration rather than helping those who use drugs get treatment, a report released Monday found.

The study was produced by the ACLU of Maine and the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP). Based on conversations with more than 150 people — including those who have been arrested for drug crimes as well as treatment professionals, harm reduction workers, prosecutors and defense attorneys — along with data from public records requests and academic research, the report makes the case for decriminalizing the use and possession of drugs in Maine. 

The state’s current system, which harshly criminalizes the possession of even small amounts of illegal substances, has amassed a staggering social and economic toll, the authors of the report argue, and must change if the state is to truly address an overdose epidemic that claimed the lives of nearly two Mainers a day in 2021.  

The study found that criminalization makes drug use more dangerous and creates conditions that mean those with substance use disorder — a disease — are less able to attain treatment.

“The isolation and disconnection of prison or jail time can interrupt treatment and lead to an increased likelihood of overdose after release,” the authors of the report write. “And the criminal records that people get from drug charges means they are forever branded as criminals, making employment, housing and other necessary processes very difficult to get and keep. People who use drugs face stigma because of all this criminal punishment.” 

Those in the state’s recovery community have repeatedly made similar arguments. The report quoted the testimony of Chantel St. Laurent of Lewiston, who told lawmakers on Maine’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in 2021 that imprisonment is often a barrier to recovery. 

“I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to watch people be incarcerated for their substance use disorder,” St. Laurent said. “I see people get their foot in the door at treatment, just to be pulled out by the justice system.” 

Along with its harmful impact on access to treatment, the report also outlined how the current system disproportionately punishes certain people. The authors stated that while white and Black people use drugs at similar rates, Black Mainers are more than 3.5 times as likely to be arrested for drug possession as white people in the state who use substances. 

Along with being ineffective and discriminatory, the current system is also expensive, the study found. In 2019 alone, about one in eleven arrests made by Maine law enforcement were for drug-related crimes, with state and local governments spending $111 million yearly to criminalize drug use. In addition, impacted individuals themselves pay another $33 million to cover the cost of criminalization and incarceration. 

A sign at a 2021 State House rally in support of drug decriminalization | Beacon

When drug arrests lead to incarceration, the report authors stated that the price of a year in state prison is more than twice the cost of providing housing, weekly counseling and medication-assisted treatment for a year to those who use substances.  

The emphasis in Maine on incarceration and punishment rather than treatment and social support is the result of long-standing policy decisions, the report found. For example, between 2014 and 2019, funding of substance use treatment through MaineCare increased 2%. But during that same time period, the authors identified a 13% rise in allocations for state and local corrections and a 14% increase in money for policing. 

“Year over year, Maine has prioritized incarcerating and criminalizing people who use drugs over making treatment for drug use more available,” said James Myall, a co-author of the report and economic policy analyst at MECEP. “Not only is this approach ineffective, but it’s extremely costly.” 

This points to the need for a better approach, the authors write. Along with decriminalizing drug use and possession, the report calls for investing the money saved by moving away from incarceration in social supports that address the underlying reasons people use substances. Such programs include treatment services and recovery-based housing, mental health counseling and community connection initiatives. 

“There is a clear consensus for a public health approach to address the needs of people with substance use disorder. It is time to ensure our policies center and support that approach,” said lead report author Winifred Tate, an associate professor of anthropology and the director of the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College. “In order to do so, we must decriminalize the possession and use of drugs in our state and invest in our communities.” 

Given that Maine has a historic budget surplus of about $1.2 billion, now is the time to make such investments, the authors argued. During a press conference Monday outlining the report, Tate said using some of the surplus to create more treatment options and community networks are important to addressing the overdose crisis. She added that advocates have also repeatedly emphasized the need for supportive and affordable housing as a crucial step toward keeping those in recovery and active use safe and able to access services. Maine is currently facing an affordable housing crisis, with myriad bills introduced this legislative session on the issue. 

There is strong evidence to support an alternative approach centered around decriminalization and community investment, ACLU policy director Meagan Sway added during the press conference. She pointed to the example of Portugal, which decriminalized drugs in 2001 and instead spent money on creating health programs for those who use substances. By 2008, about 75% of people using opioids in the country were opting into treatment, Sway said. 

In addition to Portugal, the momentum behind decriminalizing drugs has spread to some states in the U.S., with Sway citing the decision by Oregon voters in 2020 to approve a ballot measure doing so. 

The decriminalization movement is also building power in Maine. In 2021, a grassroots campaign led by the recovery community and backed by public health professionals and advocacy groups succeeded in pushing LD 967, a drug decriminalization bill, through the Maine House. Although the measure was ultimately voted down in the Senate and was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills, advocates saw the successful House vote as a significant step forward in the fight to move Maine away from failed “War on Drugs” policies.

“A majority of people in Maine support removing criminal penalties for those who use drugs,” Sway said. “This is a move that Maine is ready for, and as the report shows, it is a necessary move to end the harms of criminalization.” 

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)

Beacon, March 22, 2022,

Biden backs strikers at Bath Iron Works-Mark Gruenberg

Originally posted on People’s World on June 29, 2020 10:52 AM by Mark Gruenberg

Shipbuilders picket outside an entrance to Bath Iron Works, in Bath, Maine. | AP

BATH, Maine—Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and a parade of other prominent politicians are supporting the 4,300 Machinists Local S6 workers forced to strike by their bosses at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine.

“A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity. I urge Bath Iron Works to come back to the table and make a fair offer to the hardworking men and women of IAM Local S6,”  Biden declared on June 25.

The former vice president thus joins Maine’s entire congressional delegation and top state officials in urging the shipyard’s president, and his corporate chieftains at General Dynamics, to bargain in good faith and reach a contract with the local, which represents 64% of all the yard’s workers.

The Maine AFL-CIO is also circulating an on-line petition to Lesko, demanding he bargain in good faith and reach a contract with the workers. Supporters can sign it at

Company demands for extensive out-of-state subcontracting of their work to the lowest bidders, unlimited shift changes that would destroy seniority, and health care cost hikes that would wipe out proposed 3% annual raises, forced the workers to walk at 12:01 am on June 21.

The S6 members first rejected the company’s “last, best and final” offer by an overwhelming margin. Then 84% of those voting OKed the strike.

Relations between the union and company management are so bad that even two probationary workers, who had started their jobs only on June 15, and who could not vote, tweeted that they were proud of their colleagues. It’s the local’s first strike at the yard in 20 years.

The BIW workers, all skilled machinists, are building seven destroyers for the U.S. Navy. A spokesman for the yard’s parent firm, General Dynamics, said it “was prepared” to keep construction going, though it didn’t say how. A Navy spokesman e-mailed a defense-oriented paper the service hopes the two sides settle their differences peacefully.

Postings from Local S6 leaders on their Facebook page reveal company intransigence. The rejected pact was for three years. And IAM President Bob Martinez backed them up in a strong letter to Bath Iron Works’s CEO, Dirk Lesko, and a public statement.

“Don’t Buy The Company’s Lies and Spin,” one Local S6 Facebook posting was headlined, covering BIW’s health care proposals.

“Average premium costs from 2017 to 2020 only went up by a total of 8.4% for BIW yet they want a 5% annual increase in premiums (15% total) plus higher out-of-pocket costs. There is no justification for higher out-of-pocket costs.”

“BIW is just trying to push everyone into the high deductible plan. The increases in prescription drug copays, deductibles and annual maximums…will hurt those that need to use their health care the most, many of whom have sacrificed their health by working in the physically demanding jobs in a shipyard or have complications related to a pregnancy.”

Left unsaid in that posting is the BIW members are “essential” workers forced to toil through the coronavirus pandemic, often in close quarters without social distancing. Martinez made that point.

“This strike is about more than wages and benefits,” he said. “It is about working people having a voice in their futures and taking a stand for their families and the state of Maine.”

“Despite our repeated warnings to the management of Bath Iron Works, this employer has continued to take taxpayer dollars and outsource good Maine jobs to out-of-state contractors.”

“The company is engaged in flat-out union-busting, and is exploiting the current pandemic to attempt to outsource work from its dedicated employees, who are risking their health to build ships that protect our national security.”

“For generations, our members at Local S6 in Bath proudly built the military ships that keep our servicemen and women safe. They are the reason why ‘Bath Built is Best Built.’ We simply ask management recognize the sacrifices our members have made, and work with us to find a solution that promotes the well-being of our membership, their families and the entire state of Maine.”

The Maine AFL-CIO threw its weight behind Local S6, too. The strike vote “should send a crystal clear message to BIW management: Respect your workers, go back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair contract,” state fed President Cynthia Phinney tweeted.

“The union has struggled and bargained over decades to make these safe, quality jobs that Maine workers can survive in over a long career and earn a decent living. BIW proposals roll back job quality, worker protections and safety,” she added. “All over this state and country the essential people are rising up to demand respect, justice and a fair share of the wealth we create. The broader labor movement stands with the workers at BIW in their struggle for a fair contract.”