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Maine Lobstermen Seek to Organize Union

Photo courtesy tedkerwin

Tristan Jackson and eight other Maine lobstermen traveled to Hollywood, Md., in February to get the training and knowledge they need to start forming a union, which they say will give them unprecedented clout when dealing with the state legislature and the businesses that buy the lobsters they catch. The lobstermen met with representatives of the Machinists (IAM) and left the meeting geared up to recruit others and launch their local union.

The Working Waterfront publication interviewed Jackson and other workers:

"The goal of organizing any labor force is to achieve equitability," Jackson said. But matters such as "the health of their industry, the health of their community, the health of their quality of life" are driving lobstermen's effort to form a union.

"People want affordable health care," he said, "the hope of retiring, a paid day off, to be valued for the skills they have."

Jackson said that he and other lobstermen are convinced lobster buyers illegally collude to keep prices down, and since federal law prevents them from negotiating for a better price, they need organization to improve their position. Jackson and his fellow organizers have set a goal to get 70% of the 5,000 or so lobstermen in Maine to join over the next several years.

IAM organizer Joel Pitcher said the Machinists members are branching out and organizing workers that wouldn't traditionally have been associated with their organization.

Pitcher explained that unions have to diversify and rethink their role as the economy has moved away from factories and other businesses that employ large numbers.

"We're seeking members that don't necessarily fit that [traditional union] mold," he said.

The next step, according to Pitcher, is for the group to write a charter that would govern how the local would operate. Once they are recognized by IAM, their options would open up, he said:

Lobstermen might pursue price supports, like those enjoyed by dairy farmers. Or they might influence smaller matters, such as a legislative proposal to have higher license fees cover most of the cost of a marketing effort; instead, the bulk of the surcharge could be put on dealers, he suggested, if fishermen had that clout.

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