BANGOR, Maine — Unions in Maine are celebrating recent victories, licking recent wounds and preparing for looming battles over the minimum wage and member workers’ rights, according to members of organized labor attending a conference in Bangor.
More than 150 delegates representing unions across the state gathered Thursday at the Cross Insurance Center for a two-day Maine AFL-CIO conference focused on developing strategies to spread the reach of the labor movement and increase wages. The AFL-CIO is a federation of more than 50 national and international unions.
“We’re really focused on working to build a broad and inclusive labor movement, and that means winning victories for our local unions that are in contract fights, negotiating for good pay and wages, but also organizing new union members,” said Sarah Bigney, spokeswoman for the Maine AFL-CIO.
This year, a group of Shaw’s supermarket pharmacists unionized. Two years ago, hundreds of lobstermen formed the Maine Lobstermen Union. Bigney said AFL-CIO hopes to see more diversity among the types of workers that organize, reaching beyond manufacturing.
“All workers deserve good wages and a voice on the job, and we’re going to be continuing to see new union sectors emerging,” she said.
Mill layoffs and closings in Lincoln, Jay, Old Town and Bucksport have rocked many unionized workers, and their organizations need to play a key role in getting them back on their feet, Bigney said.
The president of the American Postal Workers Union, Mark Dimondstein, delivered Thursday’s keynote address. He railed against the “one percent” and what he termed an “all-out war” on workers, unions and their rights.
“We should not walk alone, and we certainly cannot win alone, and we are not alone,” Dimondstein said. “There’s a whole lot more of us than there are of them.”
He also called the $7.25 federal minimum wage “criminal.”
Bigney said the AFL-CIO would be heavily involved in the push for a 2016 ballot initiative to increase Maine’s minimum wage, gathering signatures and being a vocal supporter of the hike.
During a panel discussion, Rory Devine of IBEW 2327 talked about last year’s FairPoint Communications strike, which ended after 131 days of picketing that dragged through Thanksgiving and Christmas. About 1,700 workers statewide were involved in the strike.
He said strikers saw a level of community support that they hadn’t seen in past strikes.
“People were flipping us off driving by while we were on the lines back in the ’90s. This time, that didn’t happen,” he said. “An organized structure, if you’re in the situation we’re in, is vitally important.”
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