Brunswick nonprofit that helps victims of sexual assault voluntarily recognizes union
Midcoast Maine’s Sexual Assault Support Services leadership voluntarily recognized a union organized by staff at the nonprofit, according to a press release from the group.
“Historically, sexual assault advocates have faced burnout, high turnover rates and vicarious trauma in the course of their duties,” wrote education program coordinator Kendra Finnegan. “Rather than accepting this as the norm, we would like to unionize to create systematic sustainability for this crucial work. We believe that unionization will allow for greater transparency regarding pay scales, dismissals and other political practices at SASSMM.
Midcoast Maine Sexual Assault Support Services, part of a network of seven similar advocacy groups across the state, offers a range of sexual violence prevention services and education programs in counties of Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Knox and Waldo, as well as eastern Cumberland County. The new union will become a chapter of Maine Service Employees Association Local 1989, which represents more than 12,000 Maine workers, according to the release.
Large-scale organizing efforts at companies like Starbucks and Amazon have helped spur increased unionization in other sectors, said Marc Cryer, director of the University of Maine’s Bureau of Labor Education.
From October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board saw a 58% increase in the number of union election petitions filed over the previous year, according to a July statement from the agency.
According to Cryer, it is “extremely rare” for companies or organizations to recognize a new union without first demanding an election led by the NLRB.
“I think it was quite a leap for (SASSMM) to just voluntarily recognize the union,” he said. “There are many tools that could have been used to block this for months or even more than a year.”
Companies often try to stop or slow down organizing efforts by intimidating organizers or calling for a union election and then challenging the process at every step, Cryer said. He speculated that union activity is on the rise in part because the hot labor market has made it easier for workers to risk their jobs during protracted struggles with management.
SASSMM workers, however, weren’t surprised to receive voluntary recognition, according to Frankie St. Amand, a staff organizer with Local 1989 of the Maine Service Employees Association. She said the organization’s staff members, who have almost unanimously supported unionization, have a strong relationship with Executive Director Arian Clements.
“I think there’s no better time to do this work together than when it’s non-controversial, when it feels like a supportive and participatory process,” St. Amand said. “Voluntary recognition costs nothing and it really shows an employer’s respect for their workers.”
SASSMM management was not available for comment.
Earlier this year, workers at the Portland nonprofit Speak About It received voluntary recognition from a similar union, according to Andy O’Brien, director of communications for the Maine AFL-CIO, a federation of more than 160 local unions. . He said the union and others from the Preble Street Resource Center, the ACLU of Maine and Planned Parenthood Northern New England are part of a growing trend in Maine nonprofits.
“We haven’t seen that much before in the past,” O’Brien said of unions forming in nonprofits. “It’s definitely an exciting time for the labor movement, and I expect to see more activity in the nonprofit sector in the near future.
Divers recover body from Androscoggin River after capsizing