Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine leadership has voluntarily recognized a labor union organized by the nonprofit’s staff, according to a press release from the group.

“Historically, sexual assault advocates have faced burnout, high turnover rates, and vicarious trauma within their roles,” education program co-coordinator Kendra Finnegan wrote. “Rather than accepting this as the norm, we’d like to unionize in order to create systematic sustainability for this crucial work. We think unionizing will allow for more transparency when it comes to pay scales, firing, and other policy practices at SASSMM.

Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine, part of a network of seven similar advocacy groups throughout the state, provides a range of sexual violence prevention services and education programming in Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Knox and Waldo counties, as well as eastern Cumberland County. The new union will become a chapter of the Maine Service Employees Association Local 1989, which represents over 12,000 Maine workers, according to the release.

High-profile unionization efforts at corporations like Starbucks and Amazon have helped spark increased labor organizing in other sectors, said Marc Cryer, director of University of Maine’s Bureau of Labor Education.

From Oct. 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board saw a 58% increase in the number of union election petitions filed compared to the previous year, according to a July release from the agency.

According to Cryer, it’s “vanishingly rare” for businesses or organizations to recognize a new union without first demanding an election conducted by the NLRB.


“I think it was quite a leap for (SASSMM) to just voluntarily recognize the union,” he said. “There are a lot of tools that could have used to stall this for months or even over a year.”

Businesses often try to stop or slow unionization efforts by intimidating organizers or requesting a union election and then challenging the process at each stage, Cryer said. He speculated union activity is up partly because the hot labor market has made it easier for workers to risk their jobs during protracted fights with management.

The SASSMM workers, though, weren’t surprised to receive voluntarily recognition, according to Frankie St. Amand, a staff organizer with Maine Service Employees Association Local 1989. She said the organization’s staffers, who nearly unanimously supported unionization, maintain a strong relationship with Executive Director Arian Clements.

“I think there’s no better time to do this work together than when it won’t be contentious, when it will feel like a supportive and participatory process,” St. Amand said. “The voluntary recognition costs nothing, and it really shows an employer’s respect for their workers.”

SASSMM leadership was unavailable for comment.

Earlier this year, workers at Portland nonprofit Speak About It received voluntarily recognition of a similar union, according to Andy O’Brien, communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, a federation of over 160 local labor unions. He said that and union and others at Preble Street Resource Center, ACLU of Maine and Planned Parenthood Northern New England are part of a growing trend at Maine non-profits.

“We haven’t seen that mas much before in the past,” O’Brien said of unions forming at nonprofits. “It’s definitely an exciting time for the labor movement, and I would expect to see more activity in in the nonprofit sector in the near future.”

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