AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds of labor activists converged Thursday on the State House to lobby lawmakers and stump for their agenda of higher wages and voice their hostility to right-to-work proposals that they believe would weaken unions.
Union groups spoke to reporters at the Maine State Cultural Building in front of the famous — or infamous — Maine labor history mural, which Gov. Paul LePage had removed from the Department of Labor offices because he felt it was too pro-union and anti-business.
“Legislators should be laser-focused on improving wages, tackling inequality, providing jobs and economic security for Maine’s hard-working families,” said Pat Carleton, vice president for the Maine AFL-CIO.
While the unions have a variety of policy goals, Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director Matt Schlobohm said the top priority is defeating right-to-work bills that would prevent unions from collecting mandatory fees from employees who benefit from union representation.
Supporters of the bills, mostly Republicans, say the legislation would give employees a choice of supporting the union financially — or not. Labor groups argue the move is a political one, meant to diminish unions’ power. Labor groups traditionally align with Democrats.
Dan Brown works for FairPoint Communications and is a member of Communication Workers of America. The union just emerged from a four-month strike with a new contract for FairPoint employees. He said his union is the only reason he and his co-workers have good-paying jobs.
“I do feel lucky to have a good job, thanks to a union that insisted that people be treated with respect and dignity, and have a voice on the job,” he said.
The national AFL-CIO, of which the Maine union is a part, announced Wednesday that it would halt all contributions to political action committees to focus on fighting against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal the union says will hurt American workers.
Many observers see the move as leverage in the union’s efforts to convince members of Congress to oppose the deal.
While labor groups were big spenders in state elections last year, Schlobohm said the labor movement’s power in Augusta came from displays such as Thursday’s, when dozens of union members bent the ears of lawmakers in the halls of the State House.
“It’s strength in numbers. That’s our leverage,” he said. “It’s a lot about this kind of endeavor, with workers from every Senate district in the state, talking to their legislators, getting informed, and taking that back to their communities.”
The unions also touted their support for the Maine By American Act, LD 407, by state Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, which would require American-made supplies be used in state public works projects whenever possible.
State Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, a union paper machine maintenance mechanic, announced he’d propose a bill to require large Maine companies to disclose the disparity between their chief executive officers’ pay and that of its lowest-paid full-time employee.
Citing a union study, Patrick said the average Maine CEO makes 58 times more than the average worker.
“That doesn’t seem right to me,” he said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.