Maine’s prosperity depends on the strength and health of its workforce. In a changing and increasingly competitive economy, we need to hear the voices of workers now more than ever.
We can thank unions for making workplaces healthier and safer. Unions have improved life for all working Americans. Unions have worked hard to end child labor, establish the eight-hour day, improve workers’ safety and create many things we now take for granted, such as Social Security, unemployment insurance and the minimum wage. The work unions do for middle-class families continues to this day.
As a longtime union member, I know how important organized labor is for workers, workplaces and their communities. I’m proud of my involvement and what I helped workers accomplish through solidarity.
From 1976 to 2002, I was a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. For 18 of those years I was a member of Local 2740 while employed at S.D. Warren in Skowhegan. In 1997, I became Grand Lodge representative and was in charge of all organizing efforts in 14 states and the negotiations of all first agreements.
In Skowhegan, I served more than 80 members of the IAM&AW as their elected president. The paper industry was experiencing a serious downturn in business. Employees learned that a significant layoff was in the near future because of the planned shutdown of one of the paper machines.
Unless we came up with an alternative, many would lose their livelihoods. It was the insight and input of workers on the front lines that prevented disaster — not just for union members and their families but also for the company and the larger community.
The three unions and the company formed a committee. Working together, committee members devoted themselves to finding ways to cut operational costs throughout the mill. For more than 30 days, this committee worked tirelessly toward this end.
The results were a success.
Their cost-saving measures paid for the wages and benefits of more than 60 workers who would have been laid off otherwise. Even more importantly, those efforts continue to pay substantial benefits to this day — nearly 20 years later.
I’m now a first-term member of the Maine House of Representatives. I’m proud that we recently defeated anti-union legislation that aimed to undermine collective bargaining. I was also pleased to see so many of my colleagues stand up against the measures.
Those “right-to-work” proposals were anti-worker measures and a direct attack on the middle class in our state. Such legislation hurts our teachers, our nurses, our firefighters, our police officers and, yes, our millworkers.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average worker in “right-to-work” states — which would be more accurately called “right-to-work-for-less” states — makes $1,540 a year less than workers elsewhere, when all other factors are removed. In these states, 26.7 percent of jobs are in low-wage occupations, compared with 19.5 percent of jobs in other states.
To truly support workers, we must make sure they have fair wages and benefits. I hope you will join me in supporting Maine workers.
Rep. Stanley Short, D-Pittsfield, is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives. He represents Clinton, Detroit and Pittsfield.