The Maine AFL-CIO and an electrical workers union that together represent more than 40,000 workers are opposing a state ballot measure that would establish a public power company to replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said the publicly run utility, which would be called Pine Tree Power, would be responsible for billions of dollars in debt and be unable to maintain and upgrade the grid. The IBEW represents more than 1,000 workers at numerous utilities, including CMP and Versant, in Maine and New Hampshire.

“With politicians who have no utility experience in charge, the decisions on how to invest in the grid would be driven by thoughts of the next election, not what’s best for workers and customers over the long term,” the union said.

The Nov. 7 measure would establish a board of seven elected officials who would appoint six other members.

The union was joined in its opposition by the Maine AFL-CIO, the federation of unions with 40,000 members in Maine. It opposes the ballot measure in solidarity with the IBEW, said AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney, who is a member of the IBEW. The proposal would be a “major change impacting where our members work and the folks who are directly impacted by it are not in favor of it,” she said.

Phinney cited “differing opinions” on the status of the utility workforce.


“Your union rights as an employee are different depending on whether you’re a private employee or public employee,” she said.

However, backers of Pine Tree Power say the new utility, if approved by voters, will contract with a private company to operate the grid. That company would be the employer, ensuring that utility workers would still be private-sector workers. “Pine Tree Power, the public entity, will not employ the employees,” said Jonathan Beal, a retired labor lawyer who supports the ballot measure.

The IBEW said it’s received legal advice that Pine Tree Power workers would likely be considered public employees.

“We currently have the right to use the threat of a work stoppage as a tool during contract negotiations when conditions require and find losing this right unacceptable,” the union said in a statement opposing Question 3.

Under federal and state law, the proposed operator of the electric grid in Maine would be a public employer, not a private employer, because it would be controlled by the proposed new government entity controlled by a board of elected officials, the IBEW said. Under Maine law, employees of a public employer are denied the right to strike, the electrical workers union said.

The Maine Public Advocate issued a recent analysis saying that there are many uncertainties in the ballot proposal. It also posted a report with common questions and answers on its website, where it states that Pine Tree Power is obligated to conduct a competitive solicitation to contract with one or more private companies to operate the utility. That company would be required to hire most non-executive CMP and Versant employees, the report said.


“The act requires the payment of retention bonuses to incentivize employees to stay with the new operator,” it said.

Lucy Hochschartner, deputy campaign manager for Pine Tree Power, said the “Yes on Question 3” coalition is made up of electrical workers, business leaders, ratepayers, climate groups and “everyday Mainers who want control over Maine’s energy security.”

“Last year, CMP and Versant took more profit out of Maine than they paid for all of the workforce,” she said. “Pine Tree Power will protect all worker jobs and will save Mainers money across the state.”

Michael P. Monahan, IBEW’s international vice president, is blunt in explaining his opposition to the ballot proposal.

“It’s not something you should screw around with,” he said. “The state is not in a position to do this.”

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