Working Mainers deserve better
I first came to Augusta because I was tired of watching Maine’s working men and women get the short end of the stick. This session as Senate Chair of the Labor Committee, I’ve fought to make sure that we don’t turn our backs on our workers.
I’m proud that we successfully blocked two harmful “right-to-work” bills that would have undermined our economy and been a disgrace for our workforce. These bills would have undercut collective bargaining rights that protect working people.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average worker in states with “right-to-work” laws makes $1,540 a year less, when all other factors are removed, than workers in other states. Additionally, in states with these laws, 26.7 percent of jobs are in low-wage occupations, compared with 19.5 percent of jobs in other states.
In 1948 Maine voters rejected “right-to-work” legislation by a 2 to 1 margin. It was a bad idea then, and it’s still a bad idea 60 years later. The Legislature rejected it again last year, and we rejected it yet again this year.
Our work this session wasn’t all about stopping bad bills. We passed a number of good bills to help working Mainers, spur economic growth, and put people back to work.
I am very proud that we passed a bill to raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation so that as the price of milk and gas go up, paychecks will increase, too. It’s time to allow the minimum wage to do what it was created to do – reduce poverty and ensure that everyone who works hard can afford to pay their bills and put food on the table.
We passed a measure to support American workers and businesses and strengthen the economy by directing the State of Maine to buy American-made products whenever possible. We all want to see the words “Made in the USA” more often, and this bill would support our still struggling American manufacturing industry.
We also passed a measure to strengthen workers’ compensation insurance benefits for workers who were permanently injured on the job through no fault of their own. There is an arbitrary cut off for the degree of injury that a worker must have in order to keep receiving benefits, and this bill made reasonable adjustments to ensure that injured workers could focus on their recovery without having to fear being denied the only benefits they had left.
Finally, we passed a measure to prevent employers from discriminating against the unemployed when advertising for jobs. As absurd as it sounds, before this bill an employer could use employment status as a litmus test for the qualifications of an applicant.
We should be helping Maine people get back to work, not creating unnecessary barriers to employment.
Despite the positive impact these bills would have had for our state and the workers in our state, they were all vetoed by the governor. The governor vetoed 82 bills this session -- a new record in Maine. In fact, because the governor has not been a willful partner, this session was one of the most challenging I have ever seen. We worked hard, and on many occasions we worked well together. But that was not enough to counter the governor’s veto pen.
Time after time, one man brushed aside months of work and compromise by doling out veto after veto. And far too often, most of my Republican colleagues stood with him instead of the people of Maine and flipped their votes to oppose bills they previously supported.
Despite the result, I don’t regret for one minute the work we did for working people this session. I feel blessed by the opportunity to work on the issues that matter for working Mainers, from fair wages to fair employment practices, and I will continue the fight for the people I am so honored to serve.