June 18, 2018
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Don’t be lured by false promises from new lobstermen’s union

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Maine Lobster Festival head lobster cooker Peter Smith unloads a basketful of steamed lobsters Wednesday August 1, 2012 in Rockland.
By  Patrice McCarron, Special to the BDN

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association has been proudly and effectively representing Maine lobstermen for 59 years. The MLA was organized in 1954 by lobstermen who had the foresight to understand that they would be better off working together than on their own.

Over the years, the MLA has established a track record of being effective on the issues. With a constituency who rarely agrees, MLA has built trust with the industry by working honestly and with integrity. During the month of March alone, the MLA has given Maine’s lobstermen a voice on issues ranging from mosquito spraying rules, North Atlantic right whale stock assessments, opening the St. Croix River for alewife passage, marketing the lobster industry and improving lobster quality; and we held our annual meeting and attended the Boston Seafood Show and the U.S.-Canada Lobstermen’s Town Meeting. We know the issues, and we know the lobster industry.

Now, there’s a new group coming to a town near you, and unfortunately for Maine lobstermen, it doesn’t seem to share our ethics. Seeing lobstermen getting organized to improve their future is a good thing. The more lobstermen involved, the better. But the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, or IAM, is attempting to organize Maine lobstermen with false promises. It has gone so far as to take credit for stopping proposed legislation to establish a new marketing organization from being passed as written. The truth of the matter is that the legislation was never intended to be passed as written. It was a starting point for the Legislature to work from to rebuild the lobster industry’s marketing organization to effectively serve lobstermen in the 21st century.

The Bangor Daily News quotes IAM as saying, “We sat there and watched them [MLA] say they were representing you in this marketing bill, watched them say ‘75-25.’” The MLA testified at the public hearing and has been at all of the meetings concerning this marketing proposal for more than a year. But nowhere in the MLA’s testimony did we directly support the funding formula for lobstermen to foot 75 percent of the cost.

MLA’s testimony stated, “As we look to transition from the existing Maine Lobster Promotion Council to a new marketing entity, there are several elements of critical importance to the lobster industry that you should consider: The purpose of the organization must be to maximize the boat price for Maine lobster; funding must be implemented at $3 million per year beginning in year 3; the organization must be accountable to its constituents who are paying the bill; the organization must be transparent in its work and regarding spending on behalf of the lobster industry; and the organization must prove its merit through the an independent review of its effectiveness.”

I suppose we’ll have to look to the media to find out IAM’s position on the marketing bill because no one from IAM even testified at the hearing. According to press reports, the union has said that it is lobbying state lawmakers for a 70-30 split, with harvesters paying the smaller share. If lobstermen want to trust their business to a bunch of paid lobbyists in Augusta, then maybe the IAM is for them.

That’s not the MLA’s way. MLA is a grassroots organization, and we achieve our policy goals without paid lobbyists. MLA’s director and board members travel to Augusta to give our industry a voice. We know the issues; we know the industry; and we can make those critical decisions for our lobstermen when it matters most. MLA is truly by the fishermen for the fishermen.

Under the proposed IAM dues structure, 60 percent of lobstermen’s dues would leave Maine and go straight to union headquarters in Maryland, according to an IAM business representative. That does not sound like a good deal for Maine lobstermen. IAM organizers claim their researchers and lawyers have found a loophole in the Sherman Antitrust Act, namely, the federal Fishermen’s Collective Marketing Act, which would allow lobstermen to negotiate boat price.

I hate to break it to IAM’s powerful researchers and lawyers, but that is the federal law that allows lobstermen to organize into co-ops. This is not news for Maine’s lobster industry; we’ve had co-ops in place for nearly 40 years. Maine lobstermen should beware of handing over $625 of their hard-earned money each year to an organization with such dishonest tactics.

Maine’s lobster industry is comprised of nearly 5,000 independent business owners. We are not laborers. We are hardworking men and women who are proud of our heritage who often don’t agree on the issues and are generally averse to change. Maine lobstermen already have the opportunity to participate in a highly effective and trusted trade association, the MLA, if they want a voice and some honesty in shaping their future.

Patrice McCarron is executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

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