With another Labor Day upon us, it’s time to honor those everyday heroes who struggle daily for a voice on the job and a fair share of the wealth they create. For the first time in many years, workers have more leverage and they are fighting back after decades of frustration driven by low wages, unsafe workplaces, unaffordable health care and a lack of respect and dignity on the job.

After learning earlier in the day that Chipotle Mexican Grill was closing its Augusta location, workers rally July 19 outside the restaurant in the Marketplace at Augusta. Workers had been attempting to unionize and claim the closure is “union busting 101.” Keith Edwards/Kennebec Journal

Right here in Maine, we’ve witnessed that momentum.

In March, unionized papermakers at the Sappi mill in Skowhegan nearly went on strike to win the strongest economic package since the company purchased the mill in 1995. In several towns throughout Maine, union firefighters have negotiated shorter workweeks and better retirement packages. Nonprofit employees at Preble Street, the Baxter School of the Deaf and others are bargaining groundbreaking contracts that support workers of color and immigrants by strengthening diversity, equity and racial justice protections in the workplace. Mechanics at Cummins in Scarborough won guaranteed pay raises after a nearly two-month strike last winter.

While some working people moved on to pursue better job opportunities during the pandemic, others stayed put and formed unions to bargain for improvements in their wages and working conditions. As a result, union election petitions are up nearly 60 percent over the previous year, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

Across the nation, workers at Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, health care providers and many other workplaces have caught the union fever. And it’s contagious. In Maine, Starbucks workers in Biddeford joined a nationwide unionizing wave at the coffee chain and formed the first union at a food service establishment in Maine since the 1980s. Earlier this month, baristas at another location in Portland filed the second union petition at a Starbucks in Maine to improve pay and scheduling.

Unfortunately, our broken labor and tax laws allow employers to spend millions on anti-union consultants to intimidate, coax and even threaten workers considering joining a union. In fact, one study finds that U.S. employers are charged with violating federal labor laws in nearly 42 percent of all union election campaigns and one in five are charged with illegally firing union organizers.


Corporations like Starbucks, Chipotle and Trader Joe’s have been firing union organizers and closing stores to scare other workers into withdrawing their support for forming unions. Because the penalties for breaking these laws are so weak, they merely amount to a cost of doing business.

This summer, restaurant workers in Augusta filed to form the first union at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in the country to address workplace health and safety issues. However, the corporation quickly closed the Augusta location on the day its staff was set to schedule their election. This tactic comes straight out of the union-busting playbook, but the Chipotle workers are fighting the closure and the momentum of the movement is not letting up.

And although Bates College educators and staff voted nine months ago in their own union election amid an intense anti-union campaign, their ballots are still impounded and uncounted because of a legal challenge from the college administration. The situations at Bates and Chipotle show us why we must fix our labor laws to give working people a fair shake and properly fund the agency responsible for handling union elections and complaints of illegal union busting.

Being part of a union is about freedom. It’s the freedom to make your voice heard about concerns that affect you in the workplace without fear of retaliation. It’s freedom from the stress of worrying about being able to pay for health care, housing and other necessities. It’s freedom to retire in dignity because you have strong retirement benefits. It’s the freedom to have enough time to spend with your friends and family.

With the popularity of unions at its highest level since 1965, it’s more important than ever to elect leaders in November who will strengthen the freedom to join unions so we can bargain for a better deal for all workers throughout our state and across our country.

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