Let’s make our union even stronger in our next 75 years
April 12, 2018
By Ramona Welton
President, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989
Seventy five years ago, on March 18, 1943, about 200 state workers converged on the State House around a common purpose. As public servants, they knew they needed a voice in their jobs and in their pay, benefits and working conditions. They formed the Maine State Employees Association and began advocating for each other and the work they do.
Back in 1943, state workers had no employment contracts. They didn’t have health insurance. There wasn’t any pension system, either. Yet those founding MSEA members were united in their resolve to advocate for each other and the public services they were providing.
Their hard work and perseverance culminated in 1974 when state workers secured the right under state law to collective bargaining. By 1989, MSEA members recognized they needed to be part of something bigger to advocate effectively for public services, good jobs, affordable healthcare, and retirement security. So they voted to affiliate with the Service Employees International Union, our over 2-million member international union. We’ve been known as MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 ever since.
Time and time again, we have shown we are Stronger Together. Your contractual rights didn’t just happen. Members of your union have stepped up to make your voice heard by serving on the bargaining teams that negotiate your contract. Thanks go to all of the members who have served, are serving, or will serve on one of your bargaining teams.
Throughout our history, union stewards have enforced and continue to enforce your contractual rights. Thank you, union stewards, for your advocacy for your coworkers. I look forward to seeing you April 30 at our Statewide Steward Skills Training Program at the Augusta Civic Center.
Another hallmark of our union is MSEA-SEIU members consistently engage in legislative and electoral action. This is necessary because most of our contracts are state-funded. MSEA-SEIU retiree member Bob Galloupe and working member Kerem Gungor both note the importance of MSEA-SEIU members engaging Maine’s elected leaders in support of quality public services, working families and retirees in this story celebrating our union’s 75th anniversary year. Thank you to all members who advocate in the Legislature and on Election Day for public services, Maine workers, and retirees.
Ongoing attacks on workers, unions
There is no time to rest. Well-funded corporations and some politicians are trying to take away rights from workers and their unions. One such attempt is the anti-worker Janus v. AFSCME lawsuit pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Janus lawsuit is part of an effort to rig the economy against working people. It is the latest attempt by the rich and powerful trying to divide working people and limit our power in numbers.
I want you know that no matter what the court decides, we will never stop fighting for you, your families and the quality services you provide. I am pleased to report that over 125 of your fellow union sisters and brothers participated on Feb. 26, the day of oral arguments in the Janus lawsuit, in worksite actions supporting good union jobs throughout our nation. See the related story on Page 4 of your April 12 Maine Stater.
Our history shows what can happen when workers don’t have a voice in their wages, benefits and working conditions. Before state employees secured their first union contracts in the 1970s, then-Gov. Longley imposed what was known as the “Longley Lottery.” That’s when only 60 percent of state workers received merit pay increases and 40 percent were automatically denied merit raises. Bosses awarded merit raises based not on employee performance but on individual whim. That’s no way to treat workers. It’s certainly no way to recruit and retain a qualified workforce.
Instead of making it harder to join together and use our power in numbers, our leaders should be standing up for the good union jobs our communities need. A union means unity: we are all in it together. The extremists behind the Janus lawsuit case don’t want us to be united. They want to divide us any way they can, and weaken our power in numbers.
Don’t let them get away with it. Please do your part. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the Janus lawsuit and what’s for workers and union. Watch SEIU’s four-minute video about Janus here.
Then talk with your coworkers, friends and family about why strong unions and active and engage union members, both working members and retiree members, are necessary.
As you can see, our 75th anniversary year brings both challenges and opportunities. Please join me in resolving to take action in your worksites, in your union, in your community, and at the ballot box, as we launch our next 75 years as members of MSEA-SEIU Local 1989. Together we are Stronger.