AUGUSTA — Maine’s House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that eliminates the right of workers at the former DeCoster Egg Farms to unionize.

The bill, L.D. 1207, passed 73-69 along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. It still faces more votes in the House and Senate.

Under the bill, collective bargaining rights are eliminated for workers at the Turner-based farms.

A division of Minnesota-based Land O’Lakes Inc., Moark LLC, has taken over the farms under a 10-year lease-purchase agreement.

Moark’s Maine facilities includes an egg farm in Winthrop, Dorothy Egg Farms, which employs about 25 workers, according to company spokeswoman Jeanne Forbis.

According to its website, Moark is based in Fontana, Calif., and has egg supply locations across the country. Its Eastern Division, which includes Maine, is based in Bozrah, Conn.

State Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon Falls, said no other farm workers in Maine or elsewhere in the U.S., other than one county in California, have the right to unionize. Crafts is the lead sponsor of the bill, which aims to repeal a law Maine enacted in 1997 that afforded collective bargaining and overtime rights to large-scale egg farms with 100 or more employees and more than 500,000 laying hens.

Federal law doesn’t give those rights to such agriculture workers.

Democrats argued that the former DeCoster farms have a history of workplace violations in Maine and that the bill guts workers’ rights.

Don Berry, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, said in a statement that the House vote was appalling.

“These workers do some of the most difficult, dangerous and dirty work in our state for very low pay,” Berry said. “They should have the right to form a union to better themselves if they so choose. Taking rights away from workers does nothing to improve our economy.”

 


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