After three years of large membership losses in the papermaking industry, Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney says the future of collective bargaining is on the minds of union workers attending the organization’s biennial convention in Bangor on Thursday, particularly as some unions opt to abandon the fair share payment provision for workers who would prefer not to pay union dues.
“We are in a difficult time, we are in a time when companies are pushing back hard on workers,” she said. “That’s part of why there is renewed movement on the part of workers to organize so that they can have more of a voice at work. But at the same time, negotiations become difficult as companies and management at the state and whomever are pushing back and asking to have more power and to take that power away from workers.”
Two months ago, state workers agreed to abandon mandatory union dues paying requirements in favor of a 6 percent raise. Still, Phinney said Maine workers are continually searching for new union organizing opportunities.
“As workers are getting squeezed in a lot of industries, there are workers who have not been union members who are forming together to join unions and to create unions at their workplaces, so there are new workers coming into unions, but so far, not in the numbers as those which have lost their jobs,” she said.
Some of the newest union members in Maine now include lobster fishermen, hospice workers and egg farm employees.