Washington, D.C. — In Maine, more than 12 percent of residents live below the poverty line, and more than 1 in 3 families do not earn enough to pay for basic expenses. A new report from the Center for American Progress explains how strengthening worker power is key to reducing poverty and economic inequality in the state and how it would help to raise wages, close racial and gender pay gaps, and make the state’s democracy more responsive to the public.
While there are many steps the state could take to address these issues—including improving workplace health and safety standards, enforcing anti-discrimination rules, and reducing the influence of money in politics—ensuring that workers have a collective voice is crucial. Union membership in Maine has plummeted over the past 50 years. Today, only 5.5 percent of private sector workers belong to a union, despite the fact that research shows that unions help Mainers earn higher wages and benefits. Declining union membership has been accompanied by rising income equality in the state.
The report provides a blueprint for Maine policymakers to build worker power in their state, including these 10 policy recommendations:
- Provide workers a voice in setting and enforcing public health standards.
- Ensure that government spending creates good jobs.
- Improve workforce training by more fully involving worker organizations.
- Create workers’ boards to provide workers a voice in determining minimum industrywide pay and benefits.
- Partner with worker organizations and provide workers with a private right to action to ensure that workplace standards are enforced.
- Involve worker organizations in unemployment insurance modernization.
- Strengthen public sector unions.
- Use business permitting and licensing standards to support high-road businesses.
- Close loopholes that allow employers to skirt legal responsibilities and undermine worker power.
- Implement broad anti-retaliation protections.
“The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated inequalities and shone a light on unsafe conditions in many Maine workplaces,” said David Madland, senior fellow at CAP and co-author of the report. “Weak worker protections and low rates of union membership have made it harder for workers to speak out and ensure that they are compensated fairly for their work. State policymakers can ensure a safer and more equitable economy for all Mainers by enacting reforms that strengthen workers’ voices on the job and in the economy.”
Read the report: “Strategies To Build Worker Power in Maine: 10 Recommendations That Will Improve Maine’s Economy and Democracy” by David Madland and Malkie Wall
For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Julia Cusick at gro.ssergorpnacirema@kcisucj.