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Business and Economy

Mills vetoes bill to give farm workers collective bargaining rights

Jim Minott
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP file
In this Sept. 10, 2018, file photo corn plants shoot out of a forage harvester as farmer Jim Minott works to get some of his 50 acres harvested before impending rain in Brunswick, Maine.

Farm workers in Maine will not be able to organize for collective bargaining purposes.

Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill on Friday that would have given them collective bargaining rights.

The bill would have applied to every farm in Maine with five or more workers, full time or seasonal. It set collective bargaining procedures for farm workers and cleared the Legislature earlier this summer. But it has been sitting on Mills' desk for months.

In her veto message to the Legislature, Mills says she supports Maine collective bargaining in general. But she's concerned this particular bill would burden small and family-owned farms with a complex legal framework during a challenging time marked by supply chain and other pandemic-related disruptions.

"This is not a complicated bill. These laws are in effect in many other states around the country. We pride ourselves with the motto in Maine in dirigo, which roughly translates to 'I lead.' Maine is not leading here," says Gardiner Democrat Thom Harnett, the bill's sponsor.

The Maine Potato Board applauded Mills' decision. Board Executive Director Don Flannery says the bill may have been well-intended, but he disagreed that it would have helped farm workers.

Mills says she's open to working with the Legislature, farmers and others in the agriculture sector on a new bill that would offer protections to workers.