Workers for a nonprofit that runs soup kitchens, shelters, drop-in centers and a food pantry said Friday that employees in Bangor, Portland and Lewiston have voted overwhelmingly to form a union.
The workers voted 90-11 to form a union represented by the Maine State Employees Association-Service Workers International Union Local 1989.
The employees said they sought to unionize to improve services to their clients and increase their wages.
In recent years, Preble Street has experienced high employee turnover as workers burned out or found better paying jobs elsewhere. In a statement, Preble Street said the work is rewarding, but it is difficult. Frontline workers, particularly per diem employees, are underpaid.
“Now we will finally have the collective strength to secure better wages and improve management’s support and communication so that we can do our jobs better,” Philippa Adam, a worker in Preble Street’s food program, said in a prepared statement.
“By getting a seat at the table, we believe that we can make this organization stronger,” Adam said.
“The vote was a landslide, and we are ready to stand up for ourselves and our clients,” said Leslie Torkelson, who works as a case manager Preble Street’s Veterans Housing Services in Lewiston.
The new Preble Street union has formed its bargaining unit and will soon begin negotiating its first contract.
“They feed, clothe and counsel Mainers who have experienced grinding poverty, domestic violence, childhood trauma, substance abuse and mental illness,” Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney said.