Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 21, 2013
Lobstermen invited to attend lobster union discussion
by Jessica Brophy
More than 100 lobstermen in Vinalhaven, Beals and Cutler have expressed interest in joining a lobstermen’s union, according to local lobsterman Julie Eaton.
On Wednesday, March 27, fishermen in this area will have the opportunity to find out why others are signing on to the idea, and to learn more about what a lobstermen’s union might mean for them. The meeting will be open to the public.
An informational session about forming a lobstermen’s union will be held on that date in the cafeteria of the Deer Isle-Stonington High School from 7 to 9 p.m.
The session will be held with leaders from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (known as IAM).
Joel Pitcher, an IAM organizer, said the lobstermen’s “local” union, which he said is likely to be the entire state, would be associate members of the larger IAM union. IAM represents more than 720,000 workers across the country, according to its website.
As associate members, the lobstermen’s local would pay union dues and have a say in the larger organization. A lobstermen’s union would have a strong voice in Augusta, said Pitcher, and be able to discuss issues like group rate on healthcare plans and potentially a pension plan.
Everything is optional, said Pitcher, and each local decides what works best for them.
Pitcher said he recognizes that lobstermen’s current concern is primarily boat price. He said the union would be able to legally get involved in discussion of price. Last summer, when the price dropped below $2 per pound, many lobstermen tied up rather than sell. However, lobstermen were not allowed to talk to one another about this action unless they were members of the same co-op, as federal law prohibits business owners from organizing to “price fix.” Pitcher said union members would be able to discuss such things, and could be in a place to pursue “a better bargaining position at the dock.”
While price is important, said Pitcher, the true aspiration of the union would be to “preserve a way of life.” Pitcher said many other fisheries have gone the way of vertical integration, while those who are processors and others at the top have wanted to gain control of the product from the top down. “This is one of the last industries that hasn’t gone that way,” said Pitcher.
For more information about the IAM, visit goiam.org.