BREWER, Maine — Recommendations made by an area labor group could go a long way toward improving the financial situation of laid-off workers, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said Saturday morning.
“I’m very glad to see some of the recommendations that are in here,” said the 2nd District Democrat, who penned the foreword for Food AND Medicine’s “Where Are They Now?” report, released Friday, about manufacturing workers in eastern Maine whose jobs have been outsourced and many of whom are now unemployed.
“We’ve already dealt with some [of the recommendations] on a temporary basis in Washington with the new administration and a new Congress,” Michaud said. “The stimulus package, actually, for the first time, looked at tax cuts … for the middle class, not for the top 1 percent.”
Michaud, a former millworker, spoke to about 50 people at Food AND Medicine, a group that advocates for working-class Maine residents.
In the report, project coordinator Steve Husson interviewed 107 workers in eastern Maine, including 96 in the wood products industry, who lost their jobs in a period from 2000 to 2008. Husson found laid-off workers from manufacturing companies based in Brewer, Old Town, Passadumkeag, Costigan and Baileyville had lost up to 39 percent of their hourly wages from their former jobs compared to their current jobs.
Michaud lauded the report’s recommendations, which include passage of the controversial Employee Free Choice Act, which seeks to allow workers to form unions based on a majority of the work force signing authorization cards instead of using secret-ballot elections.
Other recommendations include the creation of a single-payer health care system, passage of the Free Trade Act, extension of unemployment benefits, an end to taxing unemployment benefits, and waiving penalties on early withdrawals from 401(k) accounts.
“If we’re able to move forward with the recommendations that you’ve outlined here in this booklet, I think we’ll definitely be able to turn the economy around,” Michaud said. “But more importantly, we’ll be able to allow individual workers to do what they do best, [which] is go to work and provide a decent wage for their families.”
Michaud said his colleagues in Congress often seem to be out of touch with the struggles of the manufacturing sector, but he is hopeful the new administration and Congress can help the country move forward on issues such as health care and trade agreements.
“If we’re not able to do that, then it’s going to be a long haul out [of the situation],” he said.
Food AND Medicine director Jack McKay said the group’s report is not only about the impact of free trade on the manufacturing sector or of unemployment on the individual, but also about the effects of the economic collapse, including what he said was an estimated $37 million no longer in eastern Maine because of layoffs and pay cuts in the pulp and paper industry.
“It’s a huge structural change to our economy, and it’s brutal,” he said.
The “Where Are They Now?” report can be seen at http://foodandmedicine.org/report/FAM_WhereAreTheyNow_Report.pdf.