For example, LIUNA organizer Devin Mayo has his sights set on the new high-rise apartment complex recently approved for Bayside — by implementing a Community Benefit Workforce Agreement (much like a PLA, ensuring that local laborers are hired to work on a large local project), the developer could "put people to work building their own housing." (It would also, incidentally, help the union expand its scope into a minority neighborhood.)
But achieving such lofty goals could be difficult in the current climate. Despite a pro-labor, majority-Democrat legislature, anti-union forces still wield influence. Consider LePage's recent promise, caught during the Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce awards dinner and reported by political activist Mike Tipping at his Tipping Point blog, to "be the next Scott Walker" during the 2014 election— a reference to the controversial Wisconsin governor who sparked massive protests and a failed recall attempt when he attempted to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
Chris Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, scoffs at LePage's remark. "We would hope the governor would put aside the divisive rhetoric, and hostile agenda of divide and conquer, and get to work to create economic prosperity for all Maine families," he says.
That would indeed be nice. But in the absence of such a marked alteration of temperament, we predict organized labor will continue to broadcast its pro-worker message to the public, project by project, in a renewed attempt to remain relevant. ^
BEHIND (AND ABOVE) THE SCENES AT IATSE LOCAL 114
• Besides bargaining for higher wages and health-care options, one of the primary concerns of unions is worker safety. According to the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), some of the leading causes of workplace death in private industries are falls, electrocutions, being struck by an object, and getting caught between objects.
This makes a compelling argument for the necessity of unions like Maine's IATSE Local 114, part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The union's Portland chapter consists of about 60 active members whose jobs include loading heavy equipment, rigging light displays at great heights, and operating electrical boards at the city's numerous arts venues. In a city like Portland where culture plays a vital economic role, Local 114 serves as a safeguard for those working in a skilled profession that can be as irregular, fast-paced, and dangerous as any in the arts.
Doug Born, 51, has been a member of IATSE since 2000. He notes that while any industry comes with a certain amount of physical risk, the psychological benefit of having union support is significant: "Union employees are empowered employees. Simple as that."
Born speaks from experience. In 2003, he fell 26 feet while working a nonunion contract at a Phish concert in Limestone, suffering numerous injuries that required him to be airlifted to the hospital. "It wasn't the crew's fault," he says. "It was an unsafe worksite. OSHA took one look at it the next morning and deemed it unsafe." The event has served as a dire illustration of the intrinsic dangers of his trade.
Corey Anderson, 32, works as a rigger and lighting technician for the State Theatre, Merrill Auditorium, and elsewhere in Greater Portland under union and nonunion contracts. When he joined IATSE in 2009, he admits having practical concerns, about either being passed over for nonunion jobs or losing money on the ones he did work by having the union take an assessment (which is a cut of pay for non-union jobs).