Maine - Spurred to action by inadequate high-speed Internet service as the pandemic besieged their communities, local officials and citizen volunteers in five rural Maine towns formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition (SWCBC) in an effort to bring ubiquitous and affordable broadband to its portion of Waldo County. Two years later, the SWCBC is close to securing a major victory for local Internet choice in the face of a well-funded opposition campaign sweeping the Pine Tree State as the Big Telecom lobby and its allies try to undermine the very idea of publicly-owned, locally-controlled broadband networks in Maine and elsewhere. The five SWCBC towns clustered about 30 miles east of Augusta – home to approximately 5,600 Mainers – are looking to create what is known as a Broadband Utility District (BUD).
Pembroke, Maine — One May evening, residents packed into a Pembroke meeting room to decide the future of their town. On the agenda: Should Pembroke ban industrial metal mining? The coalition of farmers, environmentalists and retirees who had called the vote wasn’t sure what to expect. Pembroke, a town of fewer than 900, isn’t exactly a liberal stronghold — Donald Trump carried the county twice. But this was not a national election, and the mining threat was not abstract: In 2021, Canadian company Wolfden Resources unveiled plans to mine for silver uphill from the wells residents rely on for water and just 2 miles from the rich estuary of Cobscook Bay. Severine von Tscharner Fleming, one of the leaders of the grassroots effort to stop the mine, puts it this way: In Pembroke, “people are not all in the same part of the political spectrum, but our common ground is literally our common ground.”
Augusta, Maine - Workers who had hoped to form the first union at a Chipotle Mexican Grill believe the company closed their restaurant and terminated their jobs this week, because they were poised to form the first union among the chain’s 3,000 establishments. Chipotle closed its Augusta restaurant on Tuesday after two-thirds of its employees had pledged to form an independent union, Chipotle United, and just two-and-a-half hours before workers were scheduled to meet with the National Labor Relations Board about their union election. "They knew they would lose," Brandi McNease, who worked the Augusta restaurant for more than three years and led the union drive, said in an interview Friday. "I was just so angry. No. We had a fair fight going. We were doing things the right way, and you just took your bat and ball and went home?
The workers at the Augusta Chipotle are forming a union. The workers at the restaurant in the state’s capital filed for recognition as an independent union, Chipotle United, on Wednesday, according to the Maine AFL-CIO. That comes just a week after the Chipotle workers staged a two-day walkout in protest of what they called unsafe working conditions. Chipotle workers told the Kennebec Journal last week that low staffing is a big concern for them. Two workers are often doing the food preparation work of six people, and the restaurant will be staffed with three to four people when at least seven are needed. In a letter to the chain’s national management, they called those demands “unreasonable” and said they jeopardize the safety of customers and themselves.
When you think of workers hamstrung by the “independent contractor” label, you probably don’t think of Maine lobstermen. But it turns out that lobstermen—a title claimed by women as well as men who catch and sell lobster for a living—have something in common with warehouse temps and Uber drivers. As independent contractors they’re denied the collective bargaining rights and various other workplace protections and benefits afforded (to some) by U.S. labor law. And the strategy they used to confront low wages is one that similarly exploited workers might want to try too: they teamed up with a union to set up a worker-owned co-op. The lobstermen partnered with the Machinists to create both an affiliate union local and a marketing cooperative.
Climate action advocate Bill McKibben welcomed a development he called "a gift to the planet" after Maine state lawmakers on Tuesday passed a groundbreaking bill committing the state to divesting its assets from the fossil fuel industry. LD 99—"An Act to Require the State to Divest Itself of Assets Invested in the Fossil Fuel Industry"—cleared the state Senate Tuesday in a 19-13 vote. It passed the House last week over the objections of Republicans like state Rep. Michael Lemelin (R-88), who asserted that lowering carbon emissions will kill trees. The legislation calls on the state treasury and state retirement system not to make any further investments in the fossil fuel industry and sets a 2026 deadline for fossil fuel divestment.
Bangor, Washington - people were present on May 8th (the day before Mother's Day), at the demonstration against Trident nuclear weapons at the Bangor submarine base. Five demonstrators blocked the main highway entrance into the base for over 20 minutes and were cited by the Washington State Patrol. At around 2 pm on Saturday, the five demonstrators entered the highway carrying two large banners stating,“CONGRESS WANTS $1 TRILLION FOR NUKES--What will be left for our children” and “TRIDENT THREATENS ALL LIFE ON EARTH” and blocked all incoming traffic at the Main Gate at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. They were removed from the highway by the Washington State Patrol.
Bath, Maine - It’s no coincidence that the first strike in 20 years at Bath Iron Works (BIW) began months into the Covid-19 pandemic. While Maine has one of the lowest Covid transmission rates in the country, the spread of the deadly virus helped spark the strike that has largely shut down the shipyard at BIW — one of Maine’s largest employers. In June, when around 4,300 Machinists Local S6 union members at BIW voted overwhelmingly to strike, many had already soured on management over its handling of the pandemic.
More than 4,300 shipbuilders at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine, are entering the sixth week of the largest private sector strike in the U.S. this year. It wasn’t assured that the members would vote to strike in such a difficult economic climate. In previous years, BIW management had pressured workers to accept concessionary contracts that froze wages and eroded job quality, ostensibly to stay competitive on bids for lucrative Navy and Coast Guard contracts. Last time around, in 2015, workers voted narrowly to give up scheduled raises in favor of one-time bonuses, in order to help the company win a contract to build patrol boats for the Coast Guard.
A secretive unit of the Maine State Police does gather information about groups and organizations even when they are not suspected of crimes, including people who are participating in protests, a top law enforcement official told lawmakers Wednesday. Michael Sauschuck, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, testified at a joint legislative hearing about the Maine Intelligence and Analysis Center, which is at the center of a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed by a state trooper. The trooper had been assigned to the center and says he was retaliated against after reporting that the intelligence unit illegally used surveillance tools to monitor innocent citizens. Those allegations raised concerns among lawmakers and civil liberties advocates and prompted groups that were allegedly targeted by the center’s surveillance to demand details about the activities.
Augusta, Maine: Patients purchased an estimated $112 million worth of medical cannabis-related products in 2019, according to newly released Maine tax data. The annual revenues related to medical cannabis are more than the total revenues generated by the sales of blueberries, maple syrup, apples, herring, and oysters combined.
SOUTH PORTLAND—Sometimes, grassroots activism looks obvious, with bold signs and public acts of disobedience. Sometimes, it looks like this: 14 people sitting on the carpeted floor of a sunny room in a home on Cottage Road while young kids color and eat crackers and fruit. So it was on a recent Sunday, as members of Protect South Portland, an environmental group, sought to tap into a new vein of activism: parents.
True, NAFTA and other “old trade agreements” hurt farmers and rural economies. It doesn’t follow, though, that the new NAFTA represents a bright new day — and a rebranding doesn’t mean an improvement. Analysis by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy makes clear that the NAFTA revamp doubles down on corporate-written policies that will worsen the economic headwinds faced by rural economies and farming families, lower food safety standards and make it much more difficult to inform consumers through nutritional and ingredient labeling.
A group of progressives in Maine has proposed a radical new solution to providing medical care for an aging, rural population. Question 1, a measure on the ballot in November, proposes universal home health care for all Maine residents, to be paid for by a tax on people making more than $128,400 a year. Opponents of the proposal say that the program would be too costly; supporters say it could radically change the lives of people living with disability or serious illness. Eligibility for the program would depend on daily needs, rather than on a medical diagnosis. Maine residents who cannot complete at least one “daily living” activity, such as bathing, cooking or walking, would be able to receive help in a variety of forms.
ROCKLAND, Maine — For the last two months, patrons of Rock City Coffee might not have noticed any changes when they stopped at the busy downtown cafe for their regular order. That’s exactly what the new owners — the people behind the counter — want. Two months ago, Rock City Coffee, a cafe and coffee roastery, became a worker-owned cooperative, with employees buying the business from its previous owner and founder, Susanne Ward. For Ward, selling the business to her employees was a reward to people who worked for her and a way to ensure that what she and her husband began 26 years ago would live on true to character. For the employees, the opportunity allowed them a path to business ownership and to keep Rock City as the place where they love to work.