This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on June 28, 2023. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Monday vetoed an offshore wind development bill because she opposed an amendment requiring collective bargaining agreements for future projects, drawing condemnation from the state’s largest federation of unions.
“Maine’s climate motto has been ‘Maine Won’t Wait.’ With this veto, Gov. Mills is saying, ‘Maine Will Wait’—for thousands of good jobs, for clean energy, and for the build-out of a new industry,” Maine AFL-CIO executive director Matt Schlobohm said in a statement. “We will wait because the governor is opposed to fair labor standards which are the industry norm.”
“The governor’s ideological opposition to strong labor standards,” said Schlobohm, “jeopardizes the build-out of this industry and all the climate, economic, and community benefits that come with it.”
Mills supported an earlier version of Legislative Document (L.D.) 1847 that originated from her office. Last week, however, the governor made clear that she opposed the addition of an amendment requiring project labor agreements (PLAs)—pre-hire deals negotiated between unions and employers that establish wage floors and other conditions—for the construction of offshore wind ports as well as the manufacturing of turbines and other components needed for wind energy projects.
In a letter to state lawmakers, “Mills argued that mandating a PLA would create a ‘chilling effect’ for non-union companies, discouraging them from bidding on construction,” The American Prospect‘s Lee Harris reported. “Supporters of the PLA provision say that is a far-fetched objection, since the agreements do not ban non-union contractors from vying for jobs. (In fact, that’s one reason some more radical unionists say PLAs do too little to advance labor’s cause.)”
The governor vowed to veto the bill unless the Legislature recalled it from her desk and revised it to the initial version or adopted “language that would ensure that union workers, employee-owned businesses, and small businesses could all benefit.”
In a Friday letter to Mills, state lawmakers told the governor they would introduce “Maine Resident Priority Language” to encourage contractors to first hire qualified workers who reside in the state.
That last-ditch effort to save the bill was unsuccessful, however. On Monday, the final day of Maine’s legislative session, Mills vetoed L.D. 1847, just as the Maine State Chamber of Commerce had urged her to do.
In her veto letter, which repeated language from last week’s threat letter, Mills wrote, “Generally speaking, I recognize the value of PLAs, or collective bargaining agreements, as a tool to lift up working men and women by ensuring that they are paid strong wages with good benefits.”
However, as The Portland Press Herald reported, Mills contended that the legislation’s PLA requirement “was a step too far because more than 90% of workers in Maine’s construction industry—which would compete for these jobs—are not unionized.” The governor “also pointed out that no other New England state requires labor agreements for offshore wind development projects.”
Mills wrote that a PLA requirement “could stifle competition, which could cut out thousands of workers and employee-owned businesses, and could end up favoring out-of-state unions in the region, over Maine-based companies and workers—and I do not believe any of us want to see out-of-state workers being bussed up to coastal Maine to build our offshore wind port while Maine workers are sidelined, sitting at home.”
Jason Shedlock, president of the Maine Building and Construction Trades Council and an organizer for the Laborers’ International Union (LiUNA), told the Prospect: “Right now what we see is the opposite. People leave the state every day to go to other states in New England, to earn family-sustaining wages.”
According to Harris:
Maine’s Building Trades include more than 6,000 workers who routinely struggle to find work nearby.
The construction industry has always involved travel. But Shedlock says part of the case for a PLA is that it will grow Maine’s skilled apprentices and eventually its union halls. If non-union contractors win bids on jobs, he said, they will look to the building trades’ apprentice programs for staff.
Maine Sen. Chip Curry (D-11), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement that he is “disappointed by the governor’s veto.”
It “threatens this new industry, putting good jobs for Maine people and the environmental benefits that go along with offshore wind at risk,” said Curry. “Maine voters understand the opportunity that we have, and they overwhelmingly support an offshore wind industry that guarantees workers good pay and benefits, protects our environment and host communities, and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels.”
“This is a critical issue for Maine’s future,” he added. “I remain committed to working with all parties, including Gov. Mills, to find a path forward.”
Earlier this month, the House voted 73-64 to pass L.D. 1847, and the Senate followed suit with a 22-11 vote. The former margin doesn’t meet the two-thirds threshold needed to override Mills’ veto, but the governor reiterated in her Monday letter to lawmakers that she is still committed to reaching a compromise.
According to Bangor Daily News, “Mills and progressives could come to a deal on the subject as part of a different bill on offshore wind procurement that the full Legislature has not yet acted upon.” That legislation, L.D. 1895, contains the same labor standards, and the governor has already threatened to veto it unless they are removed.
In an attempt to justify her opposition to PLA requirements, Mills warned that robust pro-worker provisions would put Maine “at a disadvantage compared to other New England states,” adding, “It is imperative that investment in offshore wind facilities and projects foster opportunities for Maine’s workforce and construction companies to compete on a level playing field for this work.”
But according to Schlobohm: “Every single one of the 16 offshore wind projects in development or permitting in the Northeast/East coast is being built under these exact labor standards. The same is true for offshore wind ports. It is the industry norm. Why would Maine lower our standards?”
“Funding from the federal government to support these projects is contingent on these exact labor standards,” he continued. “These bills embody the playbook—pushed by the Biden administration—for how we decarbonize in a way that benefits working people and creates a durable transition.”
The Maine Beacon reported Tuesday that Mills’ veto could cause Maine to miss out on millions of dollars in federal subsidies earmarked for offshore wind development.
“We would expect this type of resistance from a Republican governor,” Francis Eanes, executive director of the Maine Labor Climate Council, told The Washington Post. “But to have a Democratic governor impeding the president’s agenda is something that we just didn’t expect.”
As Harris explained: “At stake is whether the offshore wind industry will offer decent work—particularly compared with the industrial-scale solar sector, which promised good-paying careers but has delivered unpredictable temp jobs. In nearly every state, similar fights are playing out as business groups try to beat back labor provisions attached to new federal spending.”
“Labor groups across clean energy are hoping to capture not just installation but manufacturing jobs,” she continued. “Because operations management for offshore wind uses relatively little manpower, retaining the manufacturing is critical. In Scotland, recent reports suggest that heavy investment in offshore wind over the past decade has generated just one-tenth of the jobs promised by government officials, partly because the manufacturing of turbines has been offshored.”