1115 Waiver Approved – Mainers Unite to Defend MaineCare

In October we launched our campaign against the 1115 MaineCare waiver, because these attacks on MaineCare will move us further away from our vision of a universal, publicly funded health care system. Yesterday, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved Maine’s 1115 waiver application, paving the way for thousands of Mainers to lose their health care coverage. Just as we are finally poised to win MaineCare expansion, the LePage-appointed DHHS administration continues advancing its agenda to dismantle MaineCare. We are committed to stoping the implementation of the waiver, and to building a powerful movement to win a health care system based on our human rights, not corporate profits. Read our press release about the approval below.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Meaghan LaSala

Portland, ME: The Southern Maine Workers’ Center and coalition partners are committed to stopping implementation of Maine’s 1115 Demonstration Waiver, approved Friday, December 21st by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). If implemented, the 1115 Waiver will fundamentally restructure MaineCare, stripping many people of their access to care by creating deadly bureaucratic and financial barriers. In Arkansas where similar measures have been implemented, thousands of Medicaid recipients have lost coverage.

On October 28, The Southern Maine Workers’ Center launched a campaign against the waiver, and has been organizing Mainers who would be impacted by the changes.

Mark James is a member of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, and a MaineCare recipient. James said at the campaign-launch, “I wasn’t working when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma the first time. I knew if I hadn’t had MaineCare I probably would have died. I was living in Aroostook county, in rural northern Maine, where there are not a lot of jobs. They say this is to incentivize work. I say these requirements are set up to kick working poor people off of MaineCare.”

DHHS misleadingly portrays the 1115 waiver as a way to incentivize work in order to distract from its aims to cut access to healthcare, stigmatize low-income people, undercut both MaineCare and the Affordable Care Act, and transfer resources from poor people to corporations and the wealthy. In addition to punitive work requirements, the changes would include new cost burdens, premiums, penalties and fees, asset tests, fines for missed appointments, and burdensome, expensive paperwork.
For more information about the campaign against the waiver, contact Workers’ Center member Meaghan LaSala: 973-862-7105, meaghan.lasala@gmail.com.



You’re invited to…



 What is it?

The Southern Maine Workers’ Center is hosting its biggest grassroots fundraising event of the year, and we need your help! On Saturday, February 9th at 8pm, SMWC members will be gathering at the Apohadion Theater in Portland to sing their hearts out and raise money to support the core programs of SMWC, from the Workers’ Rights Legal Clinic to our organizing against Medicaid work requirements to our political education work in the community and more!


How does it work?

It’s kind of like raising money to run in a road race…except your road race is a night of karaoke! Each person will commit to raising a certain amount of money. For the month ahead of the event, you’ll use an online fundraising platform to make a personalized page to tell your community why you are raising money for SMWC. Using social media, personal emails, or in person asks, you’ll be inviting people you know to donate to SMWC. To make it fun you can promise to sing an embarrassing song at karaoke or offering to let your highest donor choose your song. Members of SMWC fundraising committee will be available to support you to set up your page or think about how to meet your goal.

To celebrate our success, we will participate in a super fun, really sweet night of karaoke singing with the broader SMWC community on Saturday, February 9th, at the Apohadion Theater in Portland at 107 Hanover Street. There will be drinks, food, and lots of charming singing. We promise.


What’s the fundraising goal?

We have set a goal of raising $10,000 with this event. This is our biggest fundraising goal EVER!  It’s going to take a collective member effort to make sure we realize it!


What if karaoke is my worst nightmare?

You can still sign up to raise money and just attend the event. This is a consent-based model: no one has to do karaoke if they don’t want to!


How can I sign up?

Just tell one of the Fundraising Committee members you want to do it, and we’ll send you a link to the fundraising platform. You can talk to: Jo Bell, Sue Bragg, John Ochira, Jan Bindas-Tenney, Nicole Manganelli, or Drew Joy. We’re so excited!! THANK YOU!

For LGBTQ+ young people, access to affordable, comprehensive, low-barrier healthcare is a lifeline.

Good afternoon! My name is Osgood and I’m the Director of Portland Outright.

As an organization by and for low-income LGBTQ+ people, Portland Outright’s work is inextricably linked to the work of organizing for the human right healthcare. Every time Outright youth leaders organize–for better access to healthy foods for incarcerated youth, for the right to live in safe housing, for trans-competent healthcare providers–this is the work of healthcare justice.

For LGBTQ+ young people, access to affordable, comprehensive, low-barrier healthcare is a lifeline. We see the work of advancing health equity for marginalized communities as integral to ending youth incarceration and youth homelessness. Lack of resources and barriers to good health perpetuate the criminalization of LGBTQ+/GNC youth. As an alternative to incarceration, LGBTQ+ youth need therapeutic, holistic, trauma-informed, community-based care and healing. Outright is an LGBTQ+ youth-led movement whose aim is to achieve this vision of health and equity for our communities.

Recently, the Trump administration announced plans to roll back the basic rights of Transgender people–hard won victories which protect trans people’s right to self-determination, to healthcare and to safe housing, to be safe at school and at work. Since that time, communities around our country have suffered brutal attacks on their safety and lives–in community spaces and in public.

We also know that acts of state violence–including the state violence which drives cuts to MaineCare, including the changes proposed in the 1115 Waiver –disproportionately impacts people of color, queer and trans folks, and low-income people in our community. That this kind of systemic violence is a tactic used to keep us divided, to stop us from building the collective power needed to transform our communities.

When the state creates scarcity–in services, in resources, in care–there have always been community networks that open their doors and pick up the slack. We draw power from and model our programs after generations of trans people living in the margins who created deep abundance and rich networks of support from very little. It is in this tradition that we understand youth organizing and anti-oppression work as an act of love.

We must continue to organize and to take care of one another, because this is the key to our survival and creates the blueprint for the world we are building together. Our healthcare system should reflect the vision and values that are present in the work we do together everyday–interdependence, healing, justice. Now, more than ever, we must organize boldly and broadly towards the world we know is possible.

The 1115 Medicaid Waiver is Just Another War on the Poor

On Sunday, October 28th, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center held the Rally to Protect and Expand Access to Health Care. The rally connected the dots between the well-known issue of MaineCare expansion, which, while passed by voters has still not been implemented; lesser know attacks on our health care system, including the proposed Section 1115 Waiver which would create, among other things, job requirements for Medicaid; and the growing momentum in a nationwide call  for Medicare for All. We’re sharing some of the powerful speeches from the rally so they continue to inspire the health care is a human right movement in Maine. Now is the time to hold our newly elected officials accountable to enact their promises to improve health care. Please let your representative know that you opposed the proposed changes to MaineCare in the 1115 Waiver.  Please let Governor-elect that in addition to implementing the medicaid expansion, we need  her to rescind the 1115 Waiver!

Mark James, Member of SMWC’s Health Care is a Human Right Committee

Hello, my name is Mark James. I’m a grateful MaineCare recipient. I’m grateful because without it I would be dead. I wasn’t working when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma the first time. I knew if I hadn’t had MaineCare I would probably have died. It all happened so fast. I was living in Aroostook county, in rural northern Maine, where there are not a lot of jobs. The MaineCare 1115 waiver and proposed work requirements do not consider geography, or the fact that many people go without work because there is none to be had. Health care shouldn’t be equated with how many good paying jobs there are in your region of the state.

These waiver requirements are set up to discriminate against the working poor, and find ways to kick people off MaineCare. These punitive work requirements don’t take into account people who work hard taking care of loved ones, which is generally unpaid. I know, because I was a full-time caretaker for both my mother, and my partner of 27 years. When you are caring full time for a loved one, you don’t have time to constantly fill out paperwork.

The paperwork associated with these work requirements is costly bureaucracy, and will lead to many people who should be exempt still losing their coverage because of new barriers they have to overcome. Not to mention, if you miss a premium, fee or co-payment, they could kick you off your MaineCare after just 90 days! So, if you’re working poor and you get sick and can’t pay the premium, you’re screwed either way.

They say this is to incentivize work. I say these requirements are set up to kick working poor people off MaineCare. These policies are setting people up for failure. This does nothing to move us towards our goal of universal health care. It’s another war on the poor to discriminate and humiliate people. That is why I am glad to be part of a movement that sees people’s humanity. We need universal healthcare now, because Health Care is a Human Right!

Together we will create a future where everyone has the health care they need and deserve.

On Sunday, October 28th, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center held the Rally to Protect and Expand Access to Health Care. The rally connected the dots between the well-known issue of MaineCare expansion, which, while passed by voters has still not been implemented; lesser know attacks on our health care system, including the proposed Section 1115 Waiver which would create, among other things, job requirements for Medicaid; and the growing momentum in a nationwide call  for Medicare for All. We’re sharing some of the powerful speeches from the rally so they continue to inspire the health care is a human right movement in Maine.  

Kathy Kilrain del Rio, Policy Analyst, Maine Equal Justice

photo by Roger Marchand

Mainers know that access to affordable health care is a basic human need, no matter our race, gender, background, or how much money we have. That’s why we came together to expand Medicaid at the ballot box last November. Voters across Maine understood that expanding Medicaid, also know as MaineCare, is a commonsense fix to get health care coverage for 70,000 more people in our state. It’s also why we’ve stood up to protect the Affordable Care Act time and time again.

Governor LePage has actively fought against Mainers’ access to this life-saving health care for years and continues to do so today. Despite 59 percent of voters casting a vote for expansion, he has used his power to try to block the will of Maine people by delaying over and over again the implementation of  this new law. He will not succeed.  We haven’t stood idly by. Together with partner organizations and the support of people who need this coverage, we have taken to the courts to force the LePage administration to follow the law, we worked to pass the funding he claims to need in the legislature – funding he then vetoed. Our family, friends, and neighbors need to be able to get health care and we won’t stop fighting until they do get it.

At the federal level, we continue to face attacks on the Affordable Care Act. And, the Trump administration is eager to add barriers to state Medicaid programs through the 1115 waiver process – even though a federal judge already found that barriers like job requirements are in opposition to the statutory purpose of the Medicaid program which is to serve the health and wellness needs of our nation’s families and individuals with limited incomes. Should Maine’s 1115 waiver be approved, we will fight that as well.

Those politicians who want to reduce access to health care have shown time and again that they will use hateful rhetoric to divide us—often blaming poor people, immigrants, and people of color for the problems with our health care system. The reality is that our economic system and our health care system do not work for people with low incomes without programs like Medicaid. Low-wage jobs without health benefits, the gig economy, discrimination, and our broken immigration system make it difficult if not impossible for many people to gain financial security and get the medical care they need and deserve.

It doesn’t have to be this way. When we join together across our social, economic, and racial differences, we win. Every person in our state deserves access to high quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care. Every one of us. We can make a difference by sharing our stories with our personal networks as well with the media and policymakers. We can make a difference by electing champions for health care who share our values. We can make absolutely make a difference by voting on Nov. 6th just like we voted to expand Medicaid last year. We’re asking Mainers to pledge to be a health care voter and we launched a website to make sure voters have the information they need before they go to the polls or vote early by absentee ballot. You can make the pledge and get more information at healthcarevoter.me.

Together we will create a future where everyone has the health care they need and deserve.

Rally to Protect & Expand Health Care | Sun, Oct 28

Southern Maine Workers’ Center and Supporters Hold Rally for Universal Health Care; 
Launch Campaign Against MaineCare 1115 Waiver

For Immediate Release
Contact: Meaghan LaSala

Portland, ME: While thousands of Medicaid recipients in Arkansas lose their health coverage due to punitive work requirements, The Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC) is launching a campaign to stop similar attacks on MaineCare. On Sunday, October 28 at 1:00 p.m. in Monument Square, SMWC along with a coalition of supporters will Rally to Protect and Expand Health Care. (The rally, originally planned for Saturday, was postponed to Sunday, October 28 due to weather).

The rally will feature testimony from MaineCare recipients, and amplify broad public support for universal, publicly funded health care in the lead-up to midterm elections. Mainers overwhelmingly voted to expand MaineCare access, and over 83% of Mainers surveyed by SMWC support universal, publicly funded health care, but DHHS is denying the will of the people by attempting to undemocratically dismantle MaineCare using an 1115 Waiver.

If implemented, the 1115 Waiver will fundamentally restructure MaineCare, stripping many people of their access to care by creating deadly bureaucratic and financial barriers. The Southern Maine Workers’ Center is committed to organizing everyday people across Maine to secure a universal healthcare system that guarantees healthcare to all residents, and will resist these changes that would move Maine in the wrong direction.

The rally is co-sponsored by Maine AllCare, Maine Health Care is a Human Right, Maine Inside Out, Maine State Nurses Association, Portland Outright and Portland Overdose Prevention Site (OPS).

Mark James is a member of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, and a MaineCare recipient. James said about the campaign, “We believe that a person’s access to fair and affordable healthcare should be tied to their humanity, not to any other aspect of their identity like employment, citizenship, family, or income. MaineCare has saved my life, and I want everyone to have the same access to care when they need it.”


DHHS misleadingly portrays the 1115 waiver as a way to incentivize work in order to distract from its aims to cut access to healthcare, stigmatize low-income people, undercut both MaineCare and the Affordable Care Act, transfer resources from poor people to corporations and the wealthy, and undermine Mainers’ commitment to taking collective action as a state to meet our shared needs. The following stipulations, along with the expensive and burdensome bureaucracy that they would require, would devastate many of the poor and working class Mainers who rely on access to MaineCare.


People on Medicaid would be required to continually submit paperwork proving where they work and how many hours a week they are employed. But Mainers do all kinds of formal and informal work, like working multiple jobs and providing unpaid caregiving for loved ones that would be hard to document and in many cases wouldn’t qualify as “work” under these rules at all. We should get healthcare based on our medical needs, not on how much money we have or whether we happen to be employed. No one “deserves” to be denied healthcare.


The waiver would place new cost burdens on people that would make it hard if not impossible for people to get care. Everyone enrolled in MaineCare would be denied care until they are able to come up with money to pay premiums and copays, and if they ever miss a payment, they can be kicked out of MaineCare after just 90 days.


Anyone who has more than $5,000 in savings would be kicked out of MaineCare. This will deny people healthcare and prevent people who really need to stay on MaineCare from being able to save even basic emergency funds for their families. Low income Mainers should not be forced to choose between building a modest savings and their healthcare.


Poor and working class people often have limited transportation, inflexible bosses, medical conditions, and other challenges that make it hard to get to appointments. Instead of helping people make their doctors’ appointments, the waiver would punish patients by allowing providers to charge patients for any appointments they miss.


To stay eligible for MaineCare, people would be required to fill out endless paperwork documenting that they are following all of these rules. If they can’t figure out or keep up with all the paperwork, they will be kicked out.

For further questions, please contact Meaghan LaSala at the Southern Maine Workers Center at 973-862-7105.
Social Media hashtags: #EnoughForAll | #CantWaiveME | #HealthCareisaHumanRight

We’re hiring a part-time Administrative Coordinator!

Southern Maine Workers’ Center
Administrative Coordinator


This is an hourly, part-time position for 16 hours a week. Compensation is $15/hr. The position will be focused on administrative work and volunteer coordination and will be based at SMWC’s office in Portland.



Send your resume and a cover letter to smwcemployment@gmail.com. Applications are due by November 1st.



The Administrative  Coordinator will provide ongoing support in the areas of office administration and volunteer management that are essential to the smooth operation of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center as a community-based organization powered largely by volunteer members.

The Administrative  Coordinator will be responsible for the day-to-day administrative tasks required to run the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, coordinating the administrative needs of SMWC’s member-led committees, and recruiting and supporting administrative volunteers.


Office Administration

  • Managing the info@maineworkers.org email account and fielding general inquiries about SMWC or forwarding to relevant staff or member-leaders.
  • Managing upkeep of contact database and membership rolls, including tracking dues
  • Basic bookkeeping and fiscal management
  • Maintaining the public and internal calendars
  • Maintaining and updating SMWC’s website and social media accounts
  • Facilitating printing jobs for board of directors meetings and larger programming events
  • Organizing SMWC’s office space and materials; sorting and filing paperwork
  • Coordinating payroll
  • Creating administrative policies and implementing improvements data security


Volunteer Coordinating

  • Recruiting volunteers and interns for admin tasks and programing
  • Coordinating volunteers for administrative tasks, including data entry for SMWC programs
  • Coordinating volunteers for fundraising, including events, data entry, and thank you notes



  • This position is for 16 hours a week.
  • Most work would be during the day, though occasional nights and weekends will be required
  • Weekly staff meetings will be required
  • This position will be supervised by the Executive Director



  • Ability to work with Microsoft Suite of programs (Word, Excel, Publisher, etc.) and Google Docs
  • Familiarity with Quickbooks and spreadsheets
  • Familiarity with basic website development, especially in WordPress
  • Strong verbal and writing skills



  • Aligned with the SMWC’s political orientation, community agreements, and goals as outlined in the SMWC Membership Agreements
  • Comfortable working collectively (including group decision-making, collaborative writing, and meeting/event co-facilitation)
  • Women, People of Color, LBGTQ people, poor and working class people encouraged to apply

We Believe Survivors. We Know our Rights are at Stake.

The Southern Maine Workers Center believes that all people are entitled to basic human rights that meet basic human needs. Our work is to secure these rights: to ensure that all people have work with dignity and access to the health care they need. We make progress every day, but we know that our rights are at stake with the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. We know that Kavanaugh will use his position to undermine basic human rights through ideological misinterpretations of the law. We unequivocally oppose his confirmation on several fronts.

First, we believe survivors and we believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. We know that as perpetrator of gender-based violence, Kavanaugh is not fit to serve on the Supreme Court. Additionally, this confirmation process is demonstrating that some of our elected officials don’t care about the experiences of survivors of sexual assault, which impacts the well-being of women, and survivors of all genders, in our membership and beyond. And while Kavanaugh’s conduct alone is enough to deem him unworthy of a seat on the most important judicial body in the United States, we also know that Kavanaugh’s positions on numerous issues are a direct attack on the lives of our members.

Second, we know from his D.C. Circuit court record that Judge Kavanaugh will actively work to revoke the already limited protections workers currently have. We’ve seen from his rulings that he sides with big business over workers. We know that he is hostile to unions, hostile to the the rights of workers to sue their employers, and even hostile to the idea that workers should have safe working conditions. We can anticipate less ability for workers to address other injustices in the workplace—whether that’s discrimination, sexual harassment, unsafe conditions, or better wages. Maine’s working people, who Senator Collins claims to respect and represent, would be deeply harmed by her vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

Third, we know from his record that Judge Kavanaugh has no respect for the human right to health care and could cast the deciding vote in cases that would undermine access to life-saving care. We’ve seen from his rulings that he will work to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the right to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion. As governors across the country, including in Maine, attempt to block Medicaid expansion in their states by passing punitive job requirements and premiums on very low-income people, we can expect Kavanaugh to align himself with right wing ideology, rather than the mission of the Medicaid program. Senator Collins has played an important role in protecting the ACA, but confirming Kavanaugh would undermine the stance that she took on that issue: betraying her constituents, in addition to being reckless with human lives.

Finally, we know that the conservative agenda cannot be separated from systemic racism and misogyny.  Kavanaugh’s record makes clear that he will make decisions that further institutionalize and legitimize xenophobia and racism and attempt to undermine the humanity of immigrants and people of color. We believe in the worth and dignity of all people.

We know that the justice and court systems do not currently serve all or protect all people. We know that we can not allow further degradation of our human rights by allowing Judge Kavanaugh access to the Supreme Court. We believe that Senator Collins has a conscience. It remains to be seen if she will follow it.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a danger to workers.

On July 28, 2018, I spoke at a rally in opposition to the nomination of Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. While I was generally aware of the concerns about Kavanaugh’s nomination, I wasn’t as familiar with his opinions on workers’ right.  Looking into it was chilling. I’m sharing my comments from the rally so people can learn more about the possible impact of a Supreme Court with Judge Kavanaugh on working people. I urge you to call Senator Collins and Senator King to let them know why you are opposed to Kavanaugh’s nomination. –DrewChristopher Joy, Executive Director, Southern Maine Workers’ Center 

I’m the director of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center and one of the things we do is run a hotline for workers who have experienced injustice in the workplace. We talk to workers all over the state, who are desperately looking for support after something unsafe, unfair, or unlawful has happened at their workplace. The truth is, that a lot of the time there’s not a lot we can do for them. There’s a lot of unjust things that happen on jobs sites, and even when things are illegal, it can be really hard to get help.

This is to say that conditions for workers right now are bleak we don’t have a lot of power and the power we do have is being corroded. The scale in this country is tipped toward employers and hard working Maine people need the scales tipped back toward them. Not further away.

The one tool that workers have always had, for building power and creating better working conditions is taking collective action. That doesn’t have to be formal, like a union, but it could be. Collective action might just be a few of people writing a letter together to address an issue in the workplace.

This is a lesson I learn years ago at one of my first jobs. I work delivering ice cream on a bicycle for a Ben & Jerry’s store—this is a longer story, but what’s relevant is that the manager there kept making homophobic remarks to me. I thought about leaving the job, but I really needed the money. I started talking about it with my co-workers, and found out that I wasn’t alone. The reality in most workplaces is that, if it is happening to one person it is almost always happening to all or most of your co-workers. As it turned out the manager had said racist things to one of my coworkers. So my coworker and I decided to write a letter to our manager’s boss. It worked. We got a new manager.

Collective action is the best protection workers have.

Now, that was all a long introduction to say this–the Supreme Court is not a friend to workers right now. And one of the things that is under attack is the right of workers to take collective action. Supreme Court Justice Nominee Brett Kavanaugh is lined right up with that agenda. In fact, he’ll make it worse.

I know that both Senator King and Senator Collins understand themselves to be supporters of working people in Maine, and we need them to show that by voting against the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh.

Here’s the deal. Who here is familiar with the Janus case? It’s bad, right?

Janus is a recent Supreme Court case that ruled that public workers who are protected by a union can’t be forced by union dues. Meaning people can get all the benefits of being in a union without paying into the union that protects them. The ruling was huge blow to public workers that paints a grim picture of what’s to come for other workers.

It’s likely that the Supreme Court will have an opportunity go one step further and apply the same logic to public sector workers. And it’s likely that Brett Kavanaugh would cast the deciding vote.

As our entire country becomes a “right-to-work-for-less” state, we can anticipate lower wages across the board for all workers. And we can anticipate less ability for workers to address other injustices in the work place—whether that’s discrimination, sexual harassment, unsafe conditions, or better wages.

Again, the court has already done some damage to the ability for workers to sue. A recent ruling, the Supreme Court decided that companies can require workers to settle employment disputes through individual arbitration, finding that employees should not always have the ability to bring claims through the courts.

Here’s what Cathy Ruckelshaus, general counsel at the National Employment Law Project said about this:  “It’s keeping people out of courts and unable to get any remedy under the labor and employment statutes.”

Last year Kavanaugh ruled against employees’ right to bring a lawsuit under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). And he’s likely going to have the case to weigh in on the right of a groups or classes of workers to be forced into arbitration when he’s on the Supreme Court.

Imagine the effect something like will have on workers in a large workplace who are facing the same problem… What could it mean in this #MeToo moment if women in a workplace were forced into arbitration, rather than getting together to sue their employer?

The last example I want to give is the most egregious and worrisome. A group of workers in a meat packing plant in decided to organize for better working condition and they voted to form a union that the company refused to recognize. The workers took the company to court, in a case that landed in front of, you guessed it, Brett Kavanaugh. The company argued that the union wasn’t legal because undocumented workers voted in the election and their votes should not count.

Fortunately, the rest of the judges relied on long standing precedent that the law covers all workers, regardless of immigration status. But, Brett Kavanough, in a lone dissent, sided with the employer, arguing that the law does not apply to undocumented workers and that the votes of undocumented workers should not have counted in the union vote.

We cannot allow the dehumanization of immigrant workers or the formation of second class workers. This opinion is racism. Period. Senators King and Collins, must stand against the bureaucratization of racism and discrimination and refuse to support Brett Kavanough’s appointment.

Working people deserve the opportunity to improve conditions in their work places, for themselves and their coworkers. We must protect the right to take collective action at work. We must continue to allow all workers, regardless of race, gender, immigration status, the opportunity to take collective action to address injustice at work. Allowing ideological judges to undermine those hard-fought worker rights is a disservice to all working people.

“There is no Good Society without a Good Union”: a Faith Perspective on the Janus Case

“There is no Good Society without a Good Union”:

a Faith Perspective on the Janus Case

By Father Mike Seavey

Father Mike Seavey spoke in support of labor unions in front of the Supreme Court on Monday. Father Mike is a member of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center and is the parochial vicar of St. Anne Parish, Gorham; St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Westbrook; and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Windham

On Monday February 26, 2018; the US Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Janus vs. AFSCME. The case focused on a public employee labor union’s right to collect “agency fees” from employees who choose not to join a union. The “agency fees” represent a portion of the regular dues paid by union members to cover the costs of negotiating contracts for all employees. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers) is the public employee union Mr. Janus was required to pay “agency fees” to.

Unions argue they are required to represent all employees at the bargaining table, therefore every employee should pay their fair share of the cost. Mr. Janus argued that being forced to pay the agency fee violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The required fee thus forces him to financially support the union’s political agenda which he disagrees with.

The Janus case is well financed by billionaires like the Koch Brothers and the Bradley Foundation which fund libertarian and laisse-faire capitalism causes. They are committed to eliminating unions or at the very least weakening their ability to secure employee’s just wages and benefits and especially weaken their ability to impact political elections.

The Roman Catholic Church strongly supports labor unions and especially the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively for just wages, benefits, and working conditions. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court supporting AFSCME’s position. On Monday, February 19th, the public employee union SEIU (Service Employees International Union) contacted me and asked me to be one speaker addressing a labor rally outside the US Supreme Court building while the arguments were being heard inside. 

The recommendation came from Fr. Clete Kiley, a labor activist priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Fr. Kiley is attempting to reignite the Catholic Labor Priest Movement and I am supportive of that endeavor. I readily agreed to come to DC and participated in the rally. Below are my comments.

Thanks and gratitude for all of you gathered here today and for the tens of millions of our sisters and brothers with us in spirit. Thanks and gratitude for the work you do daily in every type of job and every sector of profession. Thanks and gratitude for your work raising families and forming true communities. May God bless all of you with peace and joy!

The right for workers to organize and form labor unions has been supported and endorsed by Official Catholic teaching through the teaching office of the popes since 1891. In that year, Pope Leo XIII condemning working and living conditions fostered by the Industrial Revolution, called on Catholic bishops throughout the world to, “Support those who strive to unite working men of various grades into associations, help them with their advice and means, and enable them to obtain fitting and profitable employment.”

Over a century later, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI echoed that by teaching respectively, unions are “indispensable elements of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies”, and are needed now “even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response…”.

And the current Holy Father, Pope Francis says it as only Pope Francis does, “There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones.”

In our nation’s history, there has been one institution and only one institution that has consistently advocated for, defended and promoted working people. That institution is not the government, it is not any political party, nor is it any think tank or corporation. The only institution that has consistently stood by working women and men at all times and under all circumstances are labor unions.

It is no coincidence that the fewer people organized in labor unions, the wider the income and wealth gap in our nation. It is no coincidence that the fewer people organized into labor unions, the more people there are lacking adequate health insurance. It is no coincidence that the fewer people organized into labor unions, there are more people working two and three jobs to make ends meet. This is not conducive to healthy family life or healthy human relationships or healthy sense of self-worth.

Anyone who believes labor unions have lived out their usefulness is living a fool’s dream.  Anyone who believes they can stand alone against the forces of economic exploitation and financial greed has embraced the devil’s bargain.

Try standing alone before “efficiency” determinations downsize your office; leaving you on the outside looking in. Try standing alone before “economic emergencies” rob your pension funds while corporate executives receive salary increases and hefty bonuses. Try standing alone when a recent diagnosis on your family health plan coincides with a soon-to-be layoff targeting only you. You will soon find yourself discarded on the lonely heap of used and abused workers lost in a heartless wasteland.

There is a saying that anyone willing to trade liberty for security deserves neither. That needs to be extended to say “anyone willing to trade solidarity for individual freedom has neither.” That’s “the devil’s bargain”, and” the devil’s bargain” is the petitioner’s argument before the US Supreme Court this morning.

Only in true community do we discover our true identity and the meaning and purpose of our life. True communities are built upon and endure with love and justice. Separating individuals from supportive and protective true communities like unions is a recipe for divide and conquer, isolation and bitter loneliness, and a corrosive anger lashing out at perceived scapegoats as the culprits for their own decline. True community transforms society from the inside out; especially from the heart and soul of every person discarded on the margins of society’s abundance.

The dark forces of economic exploitation, condemned by Pope Leo in 1891 and consistently condemned by popes ever since still face us today. They are fueled by amassed wealth and power; and move against the forces of justice, true community, and true freedom. Their true identity, covered by a veneer of concern for liberty and individual rights, becomes readily apparent when the real agenda comes to the forefront.

The recent federal tax legislation signed into law made a media spectacle of throwing working people a bone. Meanwhile the meat was tossed to those already wealthy and the bill to pay for it all is passed on to everyone’s grandchildren. That was a setback!

We are experiencing and will experience more setbacks because many decks are stacked against us. We will endure these setbacks because we walk with righteousness. No matter the setbacks, keep moving forward. No matter the hostility from a well-financed opposition, keep moving forward. And keep moving forward together.

Whether we win or lose in there today, truth is on our side and no amount of money can purchase truth. Truth always prevails, and truth motivates our just cause. Tell the truth about unions and let the people organize without obstacles to bargain collectively for the common good.

Jesus said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.” Return to your homes and light the fires of solidarity across this nation. Go back home and form communities, true communities where everyone is welcomed and embraced. Go back home and welcome male and female, young and old, rich and poor, worker and supervisor, black, white, Latinx, API and all ethnicities; straight, the LGBTQ community and all orientations; liberal or conservative and all political persuasions, peoples of all faiths or of no faith at all.

Go back home, and form true communities with invitations to everyone who comes into your circles of life. Form true communities and let all who embrace the invitation take their rightful place. Make everyone welcomed and call forth everyone’s gifts to make and shape a community that takes responsibility for the common good of all our people.

Give to all reason to hope. Hope is one of the most precious commodities in our world today. Hope will not die so long as we keep moving forward. Hope will not die so long as there are true communities for people to feel welcomed, safe and valued. Solidarity forever and God’s blessings on you and all your loved ones. Thank you.