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Shalom House workers withdraw union petition amid concerns that managers discouraged organizing

Shalom House employees say management hung posters and held meetings with the workforce to discourage them from unionizing.
Provided by Maine Service Employees Association
Shalom House employees say management hung posters and held meetings with the workforce to discourage them from unionizing.

Employees at the Portland-based Shalom House have withdrawn their petition to unionize, after what they say was a weeks-long anti-union campaign by management.

Shalom House provides housing and other services to people with mental health challenges. Nearly 150 residential and client services staff were expected to begin voting at the end of this week on their petition to unionize as Shalom Workers United under the Maine Service Employees Association.

But Shalom House employees say the agency hung posters in the main office and held multiple meetings with an attorney to discourage employees from organizing.

Tim Stokes, a residential support worker at Shalom House, said managers told employees that a union wouldn't meet one of the workers' stated goals of achieving better pay.

"The main message was that a union is not going to do anything for you, and in fact it could very likely hurt you and decrease your benefits," Stokes said.

Shalom House HR Director Edward Hermann referred Maine Public to their attorney for comment about the employees' concerns.

In a statement, attorney Rick Finberg said the agency believes that a minority of workers have those concerns.

"A large majority of employees do not share that view expressed by a very few," Finberg said in an email. "Shalom House management conducted respectful communications with staff and repeatedly advised employees that the decision whether to unionize was their decision to make and that Shalom House would respect the decision they make. We encouraged the employees to consider information from multiple sources so that they had all of the information they needed to be an informed voter. We appreciate the thoughtfulness with which Shalom House staff considered all of the information."

"The union decided to withdraw the petition because it recognized that they did not have the support to win a secret ballot election," he added.

But Stokes said employees were misinformed and confused.

"It created tension, and there's fatigue that comes with tension, because whatever happened is not what we need in our workplace," he said. "We need support, because there's an emotional aspect to the work that we do everyday."

Shalom House employees had received the support of several Democratic state lawmakers, who earlier this month urged the agency's leaders and board members to remain neutral and "refrain from all-too-common anti-union tactics."

"As elected leaders and engaged community members, we are requesting that Shalom House do right by their employees and and their community by committing to neutrality and allowing staff to form their union together in an environment free from anti-union campaigning," a March 1 letter to the agency's leaders and board members reads. "This is a decision for workers to make for themselves."

The letter was signed by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, among others.