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.
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.