The summer of 2019, workers at the statewide anti-poverty agency Preble Street voted overwhelmingly for a voice at work by forming a union with ours, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989. They elected coworkers to serve on their first bargaining team, Preble Street Workers United, and began negotiating with management over their wages, benefits and working conditions.
“We have seen so much happen in that time,” members of the Preble Street Workers United bargaining team said in a joint statement. “A pandemic has hit, a civil rights movement was reignited, a wellness center was opened and our resource center was abruptly dismantled. Through it all, we have been working hard to make improvements at work. It has been quite a journey! Over the past year we have filled out surveys, drafted proposals, met with management, had union cupcakes with our clients, had button and t-shirt days to show our unity, and stuck together to make changes at work. “
The hard work and determination of the Preble Street Workers United bargaining team has culminated with Preble Street workers ratifying their first union contract. They secured substantial gains on the issues that led them to unionize: Safety, quality services and respect for the work they do:
Pay: The contract raises starting pay at Preble Street to a minimum of $15 an hour, affecting 67 staff members, most of whom were at $14. The contract also provides: a pay step of 25 cents an hour for Preble Street workers with three years of work at Preble Street; a 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise immediately and a 2.5 percent pay raise on July 1, 2021; plus a contractual $2 shift differential for overnight staff. All of these gains represent the start of a wage scale for the workers to build upon in future contracts. The contract also increases mileage reimbursement for staff who have to use their vehicle for work from 44 cents a mile to the federal rate of 57.5 cents a mile.
Safety: “Safety at work was one of the biggest issues we addressed and we secured a Safety Committee with equal authority and representation of labor and management, rights to training for all staff, access to protective equipment, proper storage and use of chemicals and medications including real kits for NARCAN,” members of the Preble Street Workers United said. “Workers will have the right to raise issues directly to the safety committee and retain the right to grieve them as well.”
Benefits and Leave: The contract preserves all current benefits and leave and adds the following: Paid Time Off for per diems (earn up to 40 hours a year) based on hours worked; catastrophic Leave Bank that employees throughout the work group can donate time to and an employee in a health crisis can access should they need additional time; added day for citizenship swearing-in ceremony; 14 days for union stewards who have been elected by their coworkers to attend training each year in order for them to help represent their coworkers and enforce the contract at work; and up to 180 days of leave with no loss of position, seniority or benefits to work as a union member organizer (during this leave the union would pay replacement of wages).
Work rules: The contract provides for hours and schedules, language affirming the right to have lunch breaks with minimal interruption, hiring and job postings, layoff and recall language, and inclement weather language.
Rights at work: The contract provides nondiscrimination language, a fair policy of attendance, seniority rights for all workers including per diems, access to personnel files, performance reviews, a discipline and discharge process, a grievance procedure, and the ability to build and maintain participation as a union through access to facilities and the right to talk with new employees during new employee orientations.
The Preble Street workers are looking forward to building on these gains. “We have come far despite hurdles none of us could have possibly predicted,” the workers said. “We stood united and fought for ourselves and for our clients. Now we’re looking forward to have the security of our contract behind us every day at work, looking forward to continuing to build on what we have won and the knowledge that we did this together.”
By forming a union with MSEA-SEIU Local 1989, which represents over 13,000 Maine workers, the workers at Preble Street exercised their right to a voice at work. To learn more about your rights to form a union in your workplace, contact MSEA-SEIU Director of Organizing and Field Operations Angela MacWhinnie.