AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine labor leaders and public officials on Thursday called attention to a recent report that predicts Maine’s economy would benefit from stronger unions.
The report by the Center for American Progress predicts that a 5 percent increase in union membership in Maine would funnel $77 million into the state’s economy. The authors estimate that newly unionized workers would see their wages increase by 8.6 percent and likely would receive better benefits, particularly in the area of health care.
“Paychecks are shrinking and [the cost of] health care is skyrocketing all across the country, and that is why unions matter,” U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said at a State House press conference.
Since 1983, the portion of Maine workers who are members of a union has declined from 24 percent to roughly 15 percent, according to organizers of the Change that Works campaign by the Service Employees International Union.
Michaud said he supports a bill known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which supporters say would allow workers to choose a union without fear of employer coercion or intimidation. Opponents of the bill waged a high-profile advertising campaign during the November election that labor groups said was deceiving.
Speakers on Thursday urged Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Maine’s two Republican U.S. senators, to support the act when it comes before Congress later this year.
Maine Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, sought to dispute the argument that employers lose when employees organize.
“We can’t continue these battles against one another,” Mitchell said. “Everyone deserves decent pay for hard work.”
House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, said she has never experienced a legislative session during which citizens were feeling so much uncertainty about the economy. Pingree said she believes increased union membership will put more money into the hands of workers, who will then pump that money into the econ-omy.
Helen Hanson, a direct-care worker from the town of China, said she initially voted against joining a union. But most of her co-workers voted to join, and the result has meant not only better wages but also improved access to training.
Hanson is now president of Local 771, the Maine Direct Care Workers’ Union of the Maine State Employees Association.
According to the center’s report, unionized workers nationwide are 28 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance and 54 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions compared with similar, non-unionized workers.