December 6, 2021
2021 Legislative Roundup: Members stepped up big to move key issues
MSEA-SEIU members stepped up big in 2021 to move key issues in the Maine Legislature and make our voice heard. We saw increases in member engagement with our federal delegation and that has shaped issues on the federal level. Members raised worksite issues by engaging legislators and by advocating for better working conditions.
Occasionally someone asks why we engage in politics and activities at the State House. We saw a great example of why this year, with some fast action under the State House dome on LD 1735, An Act To Fund Collective Bargaining Agreements with Executive Branch Employees. Now law, LD 1735 increased funding for State of Maine Executive Branch raises to up to $75 million by being amended on the floor.
In 2022, we are likely to see a Governor’s race between Governor Janet Mills and former governor Paul LePage. We will focus on engaging members early in 2022 to highlight their records on our issues. In 2022, we must unite around things we have in common and struggles we share, and stand in solidarity with those across our union.
2020 General Election: MSEA-SEIU members made a number of endorsements at the state and federal levels. The PASER Committee’s primary function in an election year is to recommend candidate endorsements for legislative, gubernatorial and congressional races to the MSEA-SEIU Board of Directors, which has final authority for candidate and ballot initiative endorsements. In 2020, the Board voted to endorse 31 Maine Senate candidates and 116 Maine House candidates recommended by the PASER Committee. Of those candidates, 22 Senate candidates won (71%); 71 House candidates won (62%).
Congressional and federal races: MSEA-SEIU members conduct a joint endorsement process with SEIU. In 2020, President Joe Biden, Congressman Jared Golden and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree all won with our endorsements.
2021 Legislative Session: The 130th Legislature was sworn in Dec. 2, 2020, at the Augusta Civic Center rather than the State House. This new location was the first of many changes made during the first session of the 130th Legislature to keep legislators, staff and their families, and the public safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the session’s work officially began in January 2021, all committee work was done via Zoom, including hearings and work sessions. Despite a few technology hiccups and adjustments, the Legislature was able to complete a large amount of work during the time they were unable to physically be in the State House. There were other positives to the virtual work; for example, many members and Mainers who were unable to testify previously due to their distance from the State House were able to hop on a Zoom call and testify without having to drive hours to Augusta. We are hopeful there may be some options for virtual testimony going forward, which would help ensure MSEA-SEIU members outside of the greater Augusta area are heard.
In March, members rallied outside the Augusta Civic Center in support of the Back To Basics Budget (LD 715), which passed and ensured the continuity of state services by preventing the possibility of a state shutdown. Additionally, we secured the passage of our legislation to address sick and unhealthy state buildings (LD 1042), protect taxpayers and workers against privatization schemes (LD 875), the bipartisan state budget (LD 221), and a joint resolution encouraging Governor Mills to end the state employee pay gap.
On July 19, at our urging, the Maine House and Senate passed LD 1735, An Act To Fund Collective Bargaining Agreements with Executive Branch Employees, after the Legislature approved increasing the cap to $75 million. We were disappointed by Governor Mills’ veto of LD 677, which would have strengthened collective bargaining rights by making arbitration binding on key economic issues for public workers.
Going into the second half of the 130th Legislature, we’ll focus on legislation that was carried over and a few new bills. Looking ahead, we are working with retiree members on a plan to push for the passage of retiree-specific bills (LD 1227 and LD 703) that were carried over from the first half of the session. These bills are steps toward fixing the undue burden created in 2011 when former governor Paul LePage and the Legislature gave tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of MainePERS retirees.
Special Elections in Senate District 14 and House District 86: In order to earn our endorsement, candidates for state races must complete a candidate questionnaire asking them about their views on issues important to MSEA-SEIU members. Then, members of our PASER Committee review these questionnaires and recommend an endorsement to the MSEA-SEIU Board of Directors, which has final authority for candidate endorsements.
Senate District 14: When the 130th Legislature convened, Senator Shenna Bellows was elected to serve as Maine’s Secretary of State, prompting a special election March 9, 2021, in Senate District 14. After inviting both candidates to fill out our questionnaire, we received one back, from former state representative Craig Hickman. Upon reviewing the questionnaire, members of our PASER Committee recommended endorsement of Craig Hickman to the MSEA-SEIU Board of Directors, and the Board voted to endorse. Members worked in collaboration with the Maine AFL-CIO and other unions on a campaign that included phone calls, texting, mailings and social media. Craig Hickman won the special election and was sworn in March 10. Senator Hickman went on to earn a 100% pro-MSEA and pro-worker score on our Legislative Scorecard for the first half of the 130th Legislature.
House District 86: After Representative Justin Fecteau resigned in July, a special election was announced for House District 86 covering part of Augusta on Nov. 2, 2021. The only candidate to request our endorsement was Raegan LaRochelle. On the recommendation of members of our PASER Committee, the MSEA-SEIU Board of Directors voted to endorse Raegan LaRochelle for House District 86. Members talked with our members who live in the district in support of Raegan. On Nov. 2, she won the special election and Reprentative LaRochelle was sworn in Nov. 10.
PASER (Political Action by Service Employees and Retirees): Our goal is to continue to increase membership in our political action program, PASER, and to have as many members contributing at a minimum of $10 a month as possible. We know the importance of having elected officials support our concerns and for us to hold elected officials accountable. If you’d like to join PASER or increase your contribution, email: PASER@mseaseiu.org
Legislative Collaboration Between Our Political and Field Departments: We work with our Field Department on bringing issues in tandem to the bargaining table and the Legislature. Over the summer, during Executive Branch bargaining, we saw the power of legislative support during collective bargaining as the Maine Legislature voted to pass a resolution in support of ending the pay gap and resolving negotiations swiftly and fairly. We also lobbied our allies in the Legislature to amend legislation that would have artificially capped how much money was available in the state salary plan for Executive Branch wage increases.
For the legislative priorities we have yet to finish, we will look to members to pick up where we left off and push forward in 2022. MSEA-SEIU members have powerful stories, and these stories have a huge impact when shared with our elected officials. The Legislature works for the citizens of Maine, which includes our members. Accountability, access to elected officials and activism in the State House are critical.
ADVOCACY AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL
American Rescue Plan: President Joe Biden announced American Rescue Plan on Jan. 20. It included many of our priorities, including additional state and local fiscal relief, which has been the focus of much of our federal work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. On Jan. 21, members asked Congressman Jared Golden questions around the next relief package, focusing on federal aid for states/municipalities, emergency funding for schools and childcares, hazard pay for essential workers, expanding paid sick leave for all workers, the national vaccination effort, and a $15 an hour minimum wage. We worked with SEIU and other locals across the country to put pressure on Senator Angus King, Senator Susan Collins to pass this package. Members joined in an SEIU National Call-In Day to Congress to demand COVID relief and a $15 minimum wage. Members also joined the SEIU Day of Action and gathered at Senator King’s office to rally in support of the American Rescue Plan and including a $15 an hour minimum wage in the package. Members emailed Congressman Golden encouraging him to vote yes on the revised American Rescue Plan when it came back to the House. Members emailed Congresswoman Pingree to thank her for voting yes on the American Rescue Plan, and members emailed both Congressman Golden and Senator Collins letting them know we’re disappointed they voted no on this measure.
Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act: On March 9, the U.S. House passed the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, one of the most comprehensive pieces of pro-union legislation in decades. We’re thankful for Rep. Golden’s key leadership on this issue. On March 31, members emailed Senators King and Collins asking them to vote for the PRO Act. In mid-April, Senator King joined Congresswoman Pingree and Congressman Golden in cosponsoring the PRO Act. Members called and emailed our federal delegation in support of the PRO Act, calling on Collins to support the bill, and thanking others for their support.
May Day Rallies: On May 1, we co-hosted May Day rallies in Augusta, Portland and Bangor. Speakers addressed issues including pandemic-related challenges for essential workers and called on Senator Collins to support the PRO Act. Speakers also addressed the need to provide a path to citizenship for the many immigrant essential workers who have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic. Later, on July 29, we joined in a press conference in Bangor calling on Senator Collins to join Senator King in supporting Maine and American workers by supporting the passage of the PRO Act.
Social Security Fairness Act: The Social Security Fairness Act is a crucial bill to finally repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset, known collectively as the Social Security Offsets. These offsets impacting many of our members’ Social Security payments have contributed to financial insecurity for retired MSEA-SEIU members, and the federal government’s inability to address this has cost our members thousands of dollars per year for decades.
This year, all of Maine’s federal representatives signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act as cosponsors, most recently Senator King. MSEA-SEIU active and retired members reached out to Senator King’s office asking him for his support. This bill now has 33 Senate co-sponsors, including four Republicans. Hundreds of members emailed Senator King on this issue.
Retiree Town Hall with Senator King: About 50 MSEA-SEIU retiree members met via Zoom with Senator King on June 16 to address concerns about the Social Security offsets, the need for home care investments, and democracy protection/election reform. Days later, Senator King added his name as a cosponsor to the stand-alone home care funding bill, the Better Care, Better Jobs Act (S. 2210).
“Care Is Essential” Day of Action: Members joined in a Care is Essential Rally July 13 featuring remarks by MSEA-SEIU President Dean Staffieri, home care worker Barb Hersom and home care recipient Ed Fallon. Members then marched to Senator Collins’ and Congressman Golden’s offices in Lewiston to deliver petitions signed by MSEA-SEIU members and allies, asking them to support investing $400 billion into the care economy as proposed by President Biden.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: With our strong support, President Biden on Nov. 15 signed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. Congressman Jared Golden, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Senators Angus King and Susan Collins voted in support. The Act will provide Maine with: $1.3 billion in highway and bridge program formula funding; $225 million in dedicated bridge funding; $19 million over five years for electric vehicle charging infrastructure; $241 million for public transportation; $74 million for infrastructure at airports; and over $100 million to for high-speed broadband. MSEA-SEIU Member Jonathan French called the act the largest investment in public transit, passenger rail, bridges, and drinking and wastewater in recent history.
Build Back Better Act: The revised framework for the Build Back Better Act, the human infrastructure legislation that has been debated in our nation’s capital for much of 2021, would bring transformative change for Maine. The Build Back Better Act would provide:
- Affordable, quality childcare to millions of Americans, including 100,000 Mainers;
- Universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds;
- $150 billion in affordable, quality care for hundreds of thousands of older Americans and people with disabilities in their homes and communities;
- The ability of the federal government to negotiate for lower prescription drugs for Medicare and Medicaid;
- $555 billion in investments in clean energy and combating climate change;
- Education beyond high school and workforce development — plus monetary penalties for employers who violate the National Labor Relations Act.
Advocacy by MSEA-SEIU members, Maine’s labor force and community advocates has given strength and resolve to the federal representatives who have worked tirelessly to fight for our priority issues. Despite the challenges of everyday life, raising families and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, members of MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 are delivering. Collectively, we’ve made hundreds of calls, sent emails, delivered petition signatures, attended rallies, picketed and held town hall events in support of the Build Back Better Act.
While the U.S. House passed the Build Back Better Act, a vote was pending in the U.S. Senate as the Stater went to press. Among those advocating for the Build Back Better Act are MSEA-SEIU Board of Directors Members and PASER Members JB Whipple, Dave Projansky, Penny Whitney-Asdourian, Steven Butterfield and Calvin Hall; and MSEA-SEIU PASER members Ginette Rivard, Jane L. Gilbert, Steve Keaten, Kevin Russell and Mary-Anne MacArthur.