The Commission on Paid Family and Medical Leave is in the midst of crafting its recommendations for Maine’s statewide Paid Family and Medical Leave Program. What can we expect that program to entail?

Last month, the Maine Paid Leave Coalition put forth its suggestions in a letter to the Commission, urging a comprehensive, universal approach to this much-needed policy. The Maine Paid Leave Coalition represents tens of thousands of Mainers among its organizations, including Mainers For Working Families, the Maine Women’s Lobby, the Maine People’s Alliance, Maine Center for Economic Policy, and Planned Parenthood.

Among the Coalition’s recommendations to the Commission on Paid Family and Medical Leave:

  • A Universal Approach: For a Paid Family and Medical Leave policy to work in Maine, it must work for all Mainers. Regardless of gender, occupation, or family structure, every Mainer should have the opportunity to access paid leave. This leave should cover a variety of situations: leave for bonding with and caring for a new child, caring for a sick family member, addressing one’s own serious medical and mental health needs, and preparation and reintegration following military deployment.

  • Job and Wage Security: Too many Americans come back from a leave of absence to find that they have lost the job they once had. Others taking leave don’t receive enough in replacement wages to cover their basic needs. No Mainer should have to choose between losing their income and taking care of themselves or their loved ones.

  • 100% Public: Maine’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program should be administered exclusively by the State, with no private involvement from third parties or non-profits.

  • Social Insurance: Just as every working Mainer should be able to take advantage of Paid Family and Medical Leave, every working Mainer should pay into the system to apply it effectively. It’s the same logic behind Social Security: employers and employees pay a small tax in order to access benefits in retirement.

You can read the Coalition’s full letter here.

Every single one of us has faced or will face a time when we need to take time off from work to care for ourselves or our loved ones. Nobody should have to choose between using leave and keeping their job to meet their basic needs. Mainers deserve a comprehensive, easily accessible Paid Family and Medical Leave program that benefits our families, our small businesses, and our communities.

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Among the many fragile systems exposed by the pandemic was a lack of job security for scores of American workers. In higher education alone, over 260,000 college and university employees lost their jobs in the wake of COVID-19. Those who remained were stretched beyond their capacity and at the highest risk of contracting and dying from the virus. All of this for, in many cases, less than a living wage.

Bates College staff and faculty have had enough. Back in October, organizers began a campaign to unionize 650 college employees who aren't campus safety officers, tenured or tenure-track faculty, or management. The new union would be called the Bates Educators & Staff Organization (BESO) and serve as a member organization of MESA-SEIU Local 1989.

Sign our petition in support of the Bates Educators & Staff Organization.

“Our mission is to build a strong, unified voice to improve labor conditions at the college and champion the social, economic, physical, and mental well-being of all Bates employees, especially the most under-compensated and vulnerable among us,” organizers said in a statement.

“Over the past year, too many of our coworkers have left due to dissatisfaction, low pay, and poor working conditions at the college. Losing so much talent and expertise has added more work for those of us who remain, diminishing our capacity to provide quality learning and living conditions for our students."

While most colleges and universities with unionizing employees remain neutral throughout the organizing process, Bates College leadership and administrators have deliberately engaged in union-busting activities and suppression of free speech.

College management communicated with anti-union labor consultants, and College President Clayton Spencer released a public statement effectively opposing the unionization effort. Management has intimidated those seeking to unionize by telling organizers they could not communicate about unionizing with other members during work time or use work WiFi to communicate around organizing. Organizers say the college is also restricting union solicitation on work time, even though it has allowed other forms of solicitation on work time, such as signing petitions or selling Girl Scout cookies. Several staff members were also told that they could potentially lose benefits if a union is approved, in violation of labor law. Organizers have now filed charges against the College for unfair restrictions on organizing.

Despite the institutional resistance, organizers are getting widespread support. Students have drawn pro-union messages in chalk across campus. Several state legislators have voiced their support for the union. And Bates alum Jared Golden released a statement supporting organizers and urging College management to remain neutral.

Mainers for Working Families firmly supports the Bates Educators & Staff Organization. Every worker is first and foremost a human being deserving of respect and fair working conditions. When these are not present, we have the right to organize and demand better for ourselves.

Show your support for unionization at Bates College.

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Maine’s rural forestry industries, like the state’s economy as a whole, sustained significant blows in the face of the pandemic. Loggers, foresters, lumber yards, and others are struggling to recover from the losses of the past year and a half, exacerbated by outdated technology that makes it hard to keep up with demand.

But thanks to Maine Senate leadership and Governor Mills, these businesses are getting a helping hand through the Maine Jobs & Recovery Program. $20 million of the state’s American Rescue Plan funds, granted during the last round of federal COVID-19 relief, will be used to recover from pandemic losses, upgrade equipment, develop new products, and strengthen the supply chain.

How does the Initiative work?

The Forestry Recovery Initiative, administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI), will make grant awards available in phases. Phase 1, which will accept applications through January, will focus on immediate financial relief to forest products industry businesses that have experienced negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic to help them sustain the viability of their business. Eligible uses of grant funds may include but are not limited to:

  • payroll costs and expenses;

  • rent or mortgage payments for business facilities;

  • utility payments;

  • purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) required by the business;

  • business-related equipment; and

  • Necessary reopening and operating expenses.

Phase 2, which will launch early next year, focuses on developing new products strengthening the supply chain. Changes in the forestry sector are going to require a new approach, including a shift to more sustainable and eco-friendly products. Making the investment in infrastructure upgrades and development now will help us create and sustain jobs for rural Mainers while strengthening Maine’s economy as a whole.

“It’s critical to make all sectors of our industry whole after COVID so we can continue our efforts to build a more diversified and resilient economy as global demand for more climate-friendly wood-based products grows,” said Patrick Strauch, Executive Director of the Maine Forest Products Council. “Governor Mills knows how important our forest industry is to rural Maine communities and our workers, and we thank her for her efforts with this initiative.”

Why is this initiative so important?

Forestry products are some of Maine’s most valuable resources. In 2019, industries in this sector generated more than 31,000 jobs and more than $8.1 billion in revenue for the state. One in every 25 workers, as well as one in every 25 dollars in Maine’s financial output, comes from the forestry sector. These numbers don’t even include businesses and organizations across the state which benefit from these industries.

In other words, the forestry sector is one of Maine’s top sources of revenue, propping up our state economy in ways we don’t often discuss. By investing this $20 million into the sector, Maine Senate leaders and Governor Mills are supporting thousands of Maine workers and businesses that keep our economy strong. Mainers for Working Families applauds their initiative and commitment to rural Maine’s working families.

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