Maine Senate President Troy Jackson during a press conference in Orono in August 2019. Credit: Gabor Degre

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Senate President Troy Jackson was working for the parent office of the largest Bath Iron Works employees union when he sent a December letter to the shipyard criticizing hiring practices and noting the Legislature could reconsider a large tax break.

Jackson, of Allagash, who rose in politics as an advocate for fellow loggers and the state’s best-known labor Democrat, disclosed his job organizing loggers for the Lisbon-based office of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in an August state filing.

On Thursday, he said he didn’t work on shipyard issues in that job, though he was near the end of a four-month stint for which he was paid between $20,000 and $25,000 when he and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, sent the Dec. 20 letter on a $45 million state tax break to the shipyard extended in 2018.

Both Jackson and Gideon voted for the tax break to Bath Iron Works, the state’s fourth-largest private employer. The shipyard must maintain 5,500 employees to get the full credit and the bill establishes reporting requirements on wage and investment data.

In their letter, Jackson and Gideon pointed to plans to hire out-of-state contractors, a decline in average wages and the hiring of lower-wage workers as “ever-growing evidence that BIW has not lived up to their end of the bargain,” adding it would be “unfortunate” if the Legislature reconsidered the tax break as a result. News of the letter was first reported by the Portland Press Herald.

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Jackson, who sponsored a bill passed in June allowing loggers to collectively bargain, said the job was in line with his pro-union orientation and organizing work he has done, including in 2018 for the same union between legislative sessions. He also said it was a typical example in Maine’s citizen Legislature, where lawmakers earn just over $24,000 for each two-year session.

“It’s my passion,” he said. “It has been for a long time and I’ve got to eat.”

In a Friday statement, the two top Senate Republicans, Minority Leader Dana Dow of Waldoboro and his assistant, Jeff Timberlake of Turner, said Jackson’s actions “are very concerning and create at least the appearance of improper conduct.”

Jon Fitzgerald, a BIW vice president, responded to Gideon and Jackson with a letter noting the workforce was now at 6,800 — up by roughly 1,000 since early 2018 — and blaming a $3,600 drop in average annual wages for production staff largely on the voluntary retirement of 700 experienced workers.

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He said subcontracting is needed to meet production schedules, though Local S6 of the IAMAW, the biggest union representing shipyard workers, opposes it. Tim Suitter, a union official, said in a Thursday statement subcontracting “lowers wages and standards for all workers” and backed the Jackson and Gideon letter.

Jackson said he had been told by union officials and management that the shipyard was reluctant to pay workers overtime and took issue with a hourly starting wage of $15.97 for laborers. A spokesman for the shipyard declined comment, but Fitzgerald noted in his letter that mark is collectively bargained and typically rises within one year.

Jackson wondered how the shipyard could attract workers with those wages and said he would consider a measure to revoke the credit if things continue this way, though there is no proposal before the Legislature to do that and the credit was extended through 2036 two years ago.

“That’s not what I voted for. It just isn’t,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he only met with union and shipyard officials in his capacity as Senate president and that his union job consisted of meeting with loggers and negotiating for the union with companies including UPS for better shipping rates for loggers. He said no loggers have joined.

Jay Wadleigh, a business representative with the Lisbon office of the IAMAW, said the office wasn’t consulted on the letter and noted that Jackson has met regularly with Local S6 for years.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...