A group of drivers with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Partners program in Augusta voted overwhelmingly Monday to form a union and affiliate with the International Association of Machinists District Lodge 4.
“We plan to reach out in the next one to two weeks to the program’s drivers in Skowhegan and Waterville,” said Jay Wadleigh, the business representative with Machinists District Lodge 4 in Lisbon Falls.
Wadleigh said 13 of the 17 drivers in Augusta were involved in the vote. One KVCAP driver from Augusta initially reached out to the Machinists, he said, and the vote to form a union happened quickly.
“By banding together, KVCAP drivers will be able to use their collective voice to improve their wages and working conditions and they will have more influence in ensuring safer, more reliable services for the vulnerable populations they serve,” Wadleigh said. “When working people get organized, everyone benefits.”
The drivers will form a bargaining committee to negotiate their first contract with KVCAP.
The Machinists union represents workers in the public and private sector throughout Maine, including the largest union at Bath Iron Works.
CAP agencies were established as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s as a way to reduce poverty and empower low-income individuals.
The drivers take low-income Mainers to medical appointments, drug treatment and work.
The community action program also has an office in Wiscasset, but that location does not offer transportation services, according to its website.
Augusta driver Peter Nielsen of Winthrop said he voted to join the union so drivers would have more influence in KVCAP decisions and to improve working conditions and services for clients.
“Our experience as drivers can now be a part of the formal decision-making process and that will strengthen the organization and help better serve our passengers,” Nielsen said. “When our working conditions and when our job descriptions are up for discussion, we want a seat at the table.”
Nielsen said he enjoys his job serving fellow Mainers, and as a union member it will be even better.
“I love it. I absolutely love it,” Nielsen said. “I’m 66 years old. I retired from a job that was pretty stressful, and I look forward to coming to work now. This is the perfect job for me at this point in my life.”