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Politics

Workers Across Maine Hold Rallies In Support Of Federal PRO Act

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Susan Sharon
/
Maine Public
People demonstrate for the PRO Act and other labor protections during a May Day rally in Portland on May 1, 2021.

Workers turned out for a series of rallies in Bangor, Augusta and Portland Saturday to celebrate May Day, also known as International Workers' Day, and to urge passage of worker-friendly legislation such as the PRO Act, considered by supporters to be one of the most important labor bills in decades.

Mary Kate O'Sullivan is a registered nurse at Maine Medical Center where nurses voted to organize this week. She spoke to a crowd gathered on the steps of Portland City Hall.

"Let me ask you: Do you think bosses should be able to force workers into union busting meetings?" she called out to responses of "No!"

"Do you think management should be able to threaten undocumented workers if they support forming a union? Do you think bosses should be able to get away with breaking the law without any penalties? Well, I have good news for you. The PRO Act or Protect the Right to Organize Act is before the U.S. Senate right now and it would change all of that."

The PRO Act, which would bolster workers' collective bargaining rights, has passed in the U.S. House where it was supported by Democrats Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden.

It awaits further action in the Senate where its fate is less certain. Independent Sen. Angus King is a supporter. Republican Sen. Susan Collins has not indicated how she'll vote. Critics include independent contractors, construction trade associations and retail associations who say it will destroy freelancing and cost millions of jobs.

Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the AFL-CIO in Maine, says labor groups will continue to urge Sen. Collins to support her working constituents. He says it should not be so hard for them to have a voice on the job, especially after the pandemic laid bare some of the inequities they face around working conditions and safety.

But Schlobohm is also encouraged by recent votes to unionize at Preble Street, Planned Parenthood, the Portland Museum of Art and Maine Medical Center.

"Organizing inspires additional organizing," he says, and he anticipates even more workers wanting to follow the lead.