Gov.-elect Janet Mills is nominating former Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman to once again fill that role, as Mills continues to flesh out her Cabinet.

Laura Fortman

Fortman, of Nobleboro, served as commissioner of the Department of Labor from 2003 to 2011 under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. She later worked as a deputy administrator in the U.S. Department of Labor from 2013 to 2017, overseeing enforcement of federal laws on the minimum wage, child labor, medical leave and employers’ obligations to pay overtime to workers.

“Laura’s experience, knowledge, and skills will be critical in addressing one of the state’s most pressing issues: our workforce shortage,” Mills, a Democrat who will take office on Jan. 2, said in a statement Friday. “Her more than two decades of expertise, both at the state and federal levels, provides her with the tools we need to take bold steps to put Maine on the path to sustained growth and a brighter future. I am excited to work with Laura to support Maine’s working families and expand our economy.”

Fortman also ran for the Maine Senate in District 13 this fall but was defeated by Republican Sen. Dana Dow of Waldoboro.

This is Mills’ fifth Cabinet pick announcement, preceded by nominees for the departments of Health and Human Services, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Administrative and Financial Affairs, and Transportation. Fortman is also the fourth woman nominated for a commissioner post by Maine’s first female governor-elect.

If approved by the Maine Senate, Fortman would replace John Butera as the state’s labor commissioner.

Mills, who is currently Maine’s attorney general, is expected to push very different labor policies and priorities than Republican Gov. Paul LePage has pursued during his eight years in the Blaine House. A former business executive, LePage opposed minimum wage increases, fought unsuccessfully with the Legislature to make Maine a so-called “right-to-work” state and clashed with major labor unions in the state throughout his tenure.

LePage has also pushed controversial changes to the way regional workforce agencies provide job training services – a shift he said was necessary to ensure the agencies spent money properly.

LePage has led the state at a time of record-low unemployment.

The next labor commissioner will inherit large, long-term challenges, however.

A report issued by the Department of Labor this summer projects that Maine’s overall job growth will be flat, with fewer than 100 new net jobs created through 2026. Already the nation’s oldest state demographically, Maine is facing a wave of baby boomer retirements that is creating a large workforce shortage, especially in highly skilled positions.

“Maine has remarkable potential for growth, and I am confident that by working together with the Legislature, in collaboration with labor and business, we will strengthen our workforce, reduce barriers to employment and make Maine the best place to live and work in the country,” Fortman, 64, said in a statement. “There is a lot to do, and I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get started.”

Also Friday, Mills nominated John Rohde of Cumberland to serve as executive director of the Workers’ Compensation Board. Rohde, 52, is a career-long employee of the board and has held the position of general counsel since 1999.

“John has dedicated his career to serving Maine’s employees and employers,” Mills said in a statement. “With more than 25 years of experience on the Workers’ Board of Compensation, he is steeped in the issues facing the Board and he is uniquely qualified to take the reins and ensure that it effectively serves its mission. I look forward to working with him in the years to come.”

Both nominees will be the subject of hearings before the Legislature’s newly constituted Labor and Housing Committee and must be approved by the Maine Senate.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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Twitter: KevinMillerPPH


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