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Business and Economy

Maine Labor Leaders Gather For AFL-CIO Meeting And Discuss Healthcare, Green New Deal

Maine labor leaders are gathering in Bangor for the two-day, biennial meeting of Maine AFL-CIO and its 160 affiliated unions.

One major agenda item being discussed by members is healthcare.

Doug Hall is a member of the Local S-6 Machinists Union in Bath. He says he's hoping to gather more support for universal Medicare. Hall, who lost his wife to brain cancer, says that despite having insurance, the need for a different system became apparent when his insurance company balked at paying for treatments ordered by her doctor.

"I had to have oncologists at Dana Farber, her neurosurgeon, her doctor, four or five different doctors, write letters so that she could finally get approval for it,” he says. “These guys are supposed to be doing surgeries you know, treating patients, not arguing with an insurance company, you know. It shouldn't be a for-profit industry."

Another major direction for the unions this year has been to prepare for a changing future that includes climate policy.

"I think in the past there's been a lot of friction between things like, if you're going to get rid of a decent paying job, and then there's going to be no organization behind these green new practices, labor would fight that," says Grant Provost, who represents Ironworkers Local 7 in Clinton.

But, Provost says, this year marked a change as union members supported Maine's Green New Deal bill, which, among other things, sets worker requirements for certain energy construction projects. The bill, signed by Gov. Janet Mills in June, stipulates that a certain amount of the labor force must come from apprenticeship programs.

AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney says that making sure that workers are at the front of a future that will include climate policy is a priority.

"Some jobs that have been very good jobs will go away, and we're working to make sure, and the Maine Green New Deal was part of that, to make sure that as new jobs are created to replace those jobs, that those are good jobs."

Phinney says it's an exciting time for unions, with attendance at this year's meeting higher than usual, and public approval of unions at a 50-year high.

Other items on the AFL-CIO agenda include more training for workers transitioning into greener industries and safeguarding worker jobs in climate legislation.

The meeting runs Thursday and Friday.