There’s a meme, a semi-joke, going around the internet that this summer is a “Hot Labor Summer.” It’s a reference to a phrase from a Megan Thee Stallion song, “Hot Girl Summer,” which went viral a few years ago. The idea behind having a “hot girl summer” is that it’s a season of having fun, partying, looking good and feeling confident. The idea behind a “hot labor summer” is that several major worker actions are going on all over the USA this season.

We tend, as a culture, to think of certain union jobs as being good and blue-collar, as tough and deserving of labor rights and protections. People act pretty supportive of the unions at Bath Iron Works, for example. On the other hand, there are unions that people tend to roll their eyes at. Most of us have far more of a personal connection to the movies and TV shows we love than to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers built at the shipyard. But we scoff at SAG-AFTRA’s demands as the complaints of soft Hollywood millionaires, even though 87% of union members don’t make enough through their acting work to qualify for the union’s health insurance plan. The qualifying amount? $26,000. Could you live on $26,000 a year?

And then there are the teachers unions, of which my father was a member for many years. (Maine Educational Association in the house!) Teachers unions get a lot of crap, from both sides of the aisle. They shoulder a disproportionate amount of blame when anything goes wrong in a public school. But those unions provide an enormous amount of job security for families like mine, which is particularly important in this day and age, when public school teachers are coming under attack from conservatives for things like reading a book about gay penguins to a class. And the health insurance benefits were gold. When Dad got cancer, we had plenty of things to worry about, but paying for his treatment wasn’t one of them. We could say “yes” to everything his doctors suggested. And when we ran out of options, it was because of nature, not finances, and he was cared for round-the-clock at the best hospice in southern Maine until the end.

I suspect subconscious sexism is a factor in how different unions are viewed by the general public. Teaching is a profession dominated by women; some 89% of public elementary school teachers are female. (For my dad, a straight white guy, working in an elementary school was the first time in his life he got a taste of being in a minority!) Unions of workers who do more manual labor, such as shipbuilders or electricians or the boys in brown of UPS, tend to be majority male. I would personally say that teaching kids how to read and write is just as important and worthy of respect, and labor protections, as building cars. And if you don’t think working as a teacher can be physically dangerous, I can tell you of many occasions when my dad was bitten by a student.

I find it interesting that many politicians, including Gov. Mills, were quite willing to throw their support behind the potential UPS strike (as they should). However, in the same week, she vetoed a bill that would have given farmworkers the same minimum wage as the rest of the state’s workers.

I seem to be in the habit of admitting shameful things in my columns, so here’s another confession I’m not proud of: I hadn’t thought very much about Maine’s farmworkers before. But we have 13,000 farmworkers in our state, as it turns out, keeping our iconic blueberry and potato industries alive, among others. They are not legally entitled to Maine’s minimum wage. They have no overtime protections – the bill that Gov. Mills vetoed, and which the Legislature failed to override, would have protected them from having to work more than 80 hours of mandatory overtime in any consecutive two-week period. It also would have entitled them to the mandatory unpaid 30-minute rest break after six hours of labor that every other class of employee in the state is entitled to.


Think of the weather in the past week or two. Can you imagine working outside on a farm in that heat, that humidity, the crummy air quality, for over 80 hours?

Cynthia Phinney, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, said, “The governor’s veto sends a clear message to farmworkers that they are second-class citizens and not worthy of the same rights and protections other workers enjoy.” I do suspect citizenship has something to do with the difference in legal status for farm employees; historically, much, and in many places most, agricultural labor has been done by migrant workers and recent immigrants who can’t vote in our elections. It’s hard to get politicians to care about you if you can’t hold them accountable with your vote.

Hopefully, this will only be a temporary setback. Hot Labor Summer continues its march with momentum. During the time it took me to write this column, UPS and the Teamsters union reached a tentative contract agreement, which would avoid a strike and provide the 340,000 workers of UPS the enhanced benefits they’ve been fighting for. And my own mom, who has been an adjunct at Southern Maine Community College for the past few years, will be signing her fall contract this summer. When she does so, she will be joining a union for the first time in her life! At the age of (mumble mumble), she will be a card-carrying member of the Maine Service Employees Association SEIU Local 1989. It’s never too late to organize.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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