Last week ended with a fight between Gov. Janet Mills and organized labor over the fate of a crucial offshore wind measure. She is now being pushed and pulled by different interests as a final decision looms.
The bill in question began as an initiative from the Democratic governor to change environmental standards in a way that will allow for the development of offshore wind ports. But the Senate passed a version tacking on language from another bill that would require project labor agreements, a type of collective bargaining deal between unions and companies.
That led to a veto threat from Mills. Her making good on it would either push the sides toward a compromise or delay things further in the nascent energy sector.
They write letters: Both the Maine Department of Transportation and the construction industry vehemently opposed this language in the other bill, which the Mills administration testified as being against the department’s normal standards. The language was chiefly being pushed by the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council, a union with 6,000 members here.
Last week, the governor wrote to key lawmakers saying she would veto the bill if lawmakers did not recall it from her desk and remove the language she sees as problematic. She noted a relatively small percentage of unionized contractors in Maine, saying the language would create “a chilling effect” for them and potentially lead to out-of-state workers dominating the sector.
Some of the Democrats championing the proposal challenged her on that in a Friday letter, noting that any contractor can enter such an agreement and floating an amendment that would ensure Maine workers have priority in the eventual agreements that govern port construction.
On the same day, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce wrote to the governor urging her to veto this bill and a similar one on project construction, noting its original support for the ports bill but saying the changes risk raising both taxpayer and ratepayer costs underlying the offshore wind industry.
“Please veto these two pieces of legislation and let’s go back to the drawing board and come up with a procurement that works for everyone,” Ben Lucas, a chamber lobbyist, wrote in the letter.
What’s next: Democrats have not taken the governor up on her request to recall the bill. The measure passed nearly two weeks ago, with the clock ticking down to a Monday deadline to make a decision.
Even if Mills does veto this, lawmakers could amend other proposals that could win her over and keep the sector on track. If they cannot make a deal, Maine will be slowed down in adapting its laws to offshore wind, something that would be embarrassing for Mills on a top priority under united Democratic control of Augusta.