Committee Advances Bills to Increase Protections for Farmworkers / by Andy O’Brien


Originally published in the Maine AFL-CIO News on June 2, 2023

The Maine AFL-CIO applauds the Legislature’s Labor & Housing Committee for advancing a bill that will improve wages and working conditions for thousands of farmworkers in Maine.

“For too long, farmworkers have struggled with low wages and lack of rights and protections that other workers enjoy. This legislation will ensure that workers in the agricultural industry are finally eligible for our state minimum wage and that they are protected from retaliation when discussing wages and working conditions amongst each other,” said Matt Schlobohm, Executive Director of the Maine AFL-CIO. “This is a compromise that will meaningfully improve the lives of thousands of hardworking people in Maine who put food on our tables. We look forward to it becoming law.”

Workers in agriculture were intentionally excluded from benefits and protections in the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the rights of workers to unionize and collectively bargain. Farmworkers were also originally exempted from wage and overtime protections in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Although current law requires that farmworkers be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, they are still not eligible to be paid overtime when working over 40 hours a week. They are also not considered employees under Maine law, so they are not eligible for the state minimum wage of $13.80 and are not entitled to overtime when working over 40 hours a week.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross introduced LD 398 and LD 525 to fix these historic inequities and grant farmworkers the right to unionize and be overtime eligible. A stakeholder group met repeatedly on these bills.

The amended version of LD 398 is a compromise that will officially – and finally – make farmworkers employees under Maine labor law. This means that the measure will make them eligible for the state minimum wage of $13.80 and be protected from working more than 80 hours of overtime in any consecutive two-week period. In addition, the amendment will grant farm workers the right to engage in “concerted activity” to improve their wages and working conditions without fear of intimidation or retaliation. This includes:

  • Workers discussing wages, working conditions, terms of employment and/or other matters related to their employment amongst themselves;
  • Conferring with their employer with regard to wages, working conditions, terms of employment and other matters related to their employment;
  • Conferring with organizations that provide services to agricultural employees; government agencies and the press;
  • Publicizing complaints about wages, working conditions, terms of employment and other matters related to their employment, and
  • Taking any action to file, prosecute, testify about, participate in the investigation of or support in any way a complaint about a violation by an agricultural employer

Farmworkers are some of the lowest paid workers in Maine and the most exploited. A 2020 report found that nationally farm employers stole $76 million in wages from 154,000 workers over 20 years. Agriculture also ranks among the most dangerous sectors with one of the highest fatal injury rates. Workers are vulnerable to sexual abuse, extreme heat waves, toxic pesticides and accidents with heavy machinery.

The committee also voted to carry over LD 525which would give farmworkers the right to unionize, until the next legislative session.

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

Maine News: Chipotle shuts down Augusta restaurant amid unionization campaign / by Evan Popp

Photo: Workers at the Augusta Chipotle | Courtesy Maine AFL-CIO

Originally published in the Beacon on July 19, 2022

Workers at a Maine-based Chipotle argue the corporate fast-food chain is engaging in union-busting after the company announced Tuesday it is closing the Augusta restaurant where employees filed to form a collective bargaining unit. 

On Tuesday, Lisa Zeppetelli of the Chipotle northeast region corporate office informed workers that the Augusta restaurant at 1 Stephen Drive would be permanently closing, effective that day. In the message, Zeppetelli claimed that while the company had spent considerable time and resources on the store, “we don’t have management necessary to reopen.” The store originally closed temporarily in June after employees expressed concerns about staffing levels.  

Workers rallied Tuesday afternoon in protest of the decision to permanently close the restaurant, urging Chipotle to reverse the decision. In a news release announcing that protest, employees at the restaurant said the timing of the closure is revealing. Last month, a majority of workers at the Augusta restaurant filed to form a union — a first among Chipotle workers nationwide — called Chipotle United. That came after employees protested working conditions at the restaurant by walking off the job earlier in June, arguing that persistent understaffing and a lack of training was creating an unsafe environment. 

“This is union busting 101 and there is nothing that motivates us to fight harder than this underhanded attempt to shut down the labor movement within their stores,” Chipotle United member Brandi McNease said of the company’s decision to close the Augusta restaurant. “They’re scared because they know how powerful we are, and if we catch fire like the unionization effort at Starbucks they won’t be able to stop us.” 

McNease added that the company waited until the morning of a hearing to determine the next steps for the union election to announce that the store would be shut down. 

“Since we announced our intent to unionize, they’ve tried to bully, harass and intimidate our crew to prevent them from exercising their right to have a collective voice on the job,” she said. “But we remain united, our solidarity is strong and we won’t bend. We are sticking together and our customers have our backs. We are fighting this decision and we are building a movement to transform the fast food industry and ensure the workers who create all the wealth for these corporations are respected and no longer have to struggle to support their families.”

McNease pointed out that Chipotle gave its CEO a massive bonus in 2020, arguing that the claim the company couldn’t bring in enough workers to keep the Augusta restaurant open doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. She said Chipotle has the money to “attract workers and pay them living wages” if the company wanted to.  

In her email to workers on Tuesday, Zeppetelli said workers will be paid for any scheduled shifts through July 24 and will receive four weeks severance based on hours they worked over the past two weeks. Chipotle benefits will continue through July 30 and workers can keep getting benefits through the COBRA program for a period of time, she said. The company also pledged to assist workers in finding another job. 

In a statement to Beacon, Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer at Chipotle, reiterated the arguments made by Zeppetelli in her email, writing that the company went to “extraordinary lengths to try to staff the restaurant, including deploying two recruiting experts dedicated to this one restaurant.” However, she said those efforts were unsuccessful and that the staffing issues meant reopening the restaurant wouldn’t be profitable. Schalow did not address a question about whether Chipotle was attempting to bust the workers’ union. 

The announcement that the Augusta store will be shut down comes as the effort to unionize Chipotle workers has spread. The organizing committee for the Augusta restaurant union said it has received communications from employees at other Chipotles in Maine and around the country asking for advice on forming a collective bargaining unit. And earlier this month, workers at a Chipotle in Michigan also filed to form a union. 

Such efforts are part of a labor movement that has shown renewed strength in Maine and across the country. Organizers have recently won union elections at an Amazon warehouse and myriad Starbucks locations as workers seek to force companies to treat employees better, pay them a higher wage and put in place additional protections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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

Dollar General Workers Are Fed Up / by Alex N. Press

Dollar General workers are demanding that the company address low wages, understaffing, and hazardous working conditions. (Mike Mozart / Flickr)

A wave of worker backlash to abusive labor practices has hit Dollar General. Workers are fed up with poverty wages and health and safety violations. The retailer may soon make the list of the new organizing movement hitting companies like Starbucks and Amazon.

Cowardly. That’s how David Williams, who works at a Dollar General in New Orleans, describes the discount retail chain’s resistance to workers’ demands for better wages and working conditions.

Raised in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, Williams has worked at Dollar General for around two-and-a-half years. He says that his starting wage was around $8 an hour; it is now $9.25. Williams works part-time, and says that paying bills on Dollar General’s wages is “a constant struggle.”

“I never know when I’m gonna have my next meal, I never know when I’ll be able to pay my rent,” says Williams. “I’m constantly figuring out if I need to ask for extensions on bills, and then I’m not sure I can even hit the extension’s deadline. It’s a constant struggle thinking about this every single day.”

Williams is one of more than 150 Dollar General employees who traveled to the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, on Wednesday, May 25, to demand that company executives address low wages, understaffing, and hazardous working conditions. The workers were joined by labor advocacy groups such as the Fight for $15, United for Respect, and Step Up Louisiana, as well as workers from Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree.

Dollar General has enjoyed steady profits despite the pandemic, and CEO Todd Vasos was paid $1.7 million in 2021, a 37 percent pay bump that amounts to 986 times more than the median wage of one of the company’s 163,000 workers in the more than 18,000 stores across the United States.

A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute finds that 92 percent of Dollar General employees make less than $15 an hour. Twenty-two percent make less than $10 an hour; Williams is just one of them.

The pandemic was the final straw for many of these workers, who have begun speaking up about not only low wages but pervasive health and safety concerns. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has cited Dollar General fifty-five times since 2016, fining the company a total of $3.6 million. As OSHA regional administrator Kurt Petermeyer said following a recent citation, Dollar General has a “long and extensive history of workplace safety violations” and “blatant and continued disregard for the safety of their employees.”

Williams says that his biggest concern is the heat. He drinks two Powerades and a large bottle of water during his shift to stave off dehydration. When he speaks to management about the temperature in the store, they often say that the air-conditioning is on and working, and don’t seem concerned about the temperature.

“I’m pretty sure that when it’s that hot and you’re trying to do your job as well, who’s to say that you can’t have a heat stroke,” says Williams. Asked about working at Dollar General more generally, he characterizes the job as “the ugliest thing you’ll ever see.”

“It’s a pain so unbearable that you can’t describe it. That’s how horrific this is. Enough is enough. Dollar store workers put too much into this to get paid as they do,” he adds.

Faulty air-conditioning was also a problem for Mary Gundel, a manager of a Dollar General in Tampa, Florida, who was fired after her TikTok about the company’s hazardous working conditions went viral.

“At my store, I found mold in the cooler and we had to work without proper ventilation when the air conditioner broke when it was hot outside — and that’s just one location,” said Gundel, who also took part in the Goodlettsville rally. “As a manager, not a day went by where we were properly staffed, forcing me to go beyond my duties to unpack boxes, clear store aisles, or work countless hours in overtime. It’s appalling that it had to take a viral video of my store’s conditions for the corporate executives to begin paying attention.”

Thus far, attempts to unionize Dollar General stores have been defeated by the company. In 2020, Dollar General shut down a Missouri store that voted to unionize. In 2021, the company retained union-busting law firm Labor Relations Institute, paying consultants $2,700 per day to beat a union drive at a Connecticut location.

Workers see the Goodlettsville rally as the next step in increasing pressure on the company. Coming as it does at a time when other low-wage workers in the retail sector are beginning to organize other large companies — from Starbucks to Apple, Target, and Trader Joe’s — Dollar General workers say that now is the time to change what has become intolerable.

“This is a very scary feeling, but I feel like I’m doing something right, not just for myself but for the people who live the same struggle as I do,” says Williams.

This is everybody’s fight. Everybody has a voice. The ones who are voiceless actually do have a voice and it’s up to you to use that voice for what you want and what you need. Demand it, because you deserve it. Everybody who works hard, everybody who puts their blood, sweat, and tears into this job and gets paid little to nothing? You deserve more than what you get.

Alex N. Press is a staff writer at Jacobin. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Vox, the Nation, and n+1, among other places.

Jacobin, May 28, 2022,