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October 5, 2023

Union trend grows as Portland-based nonprofit votes to organize

Another labor union has launched in Maine, with workers at a Portland-based nonprofit becoming the latest to organize.

Educators, advocates and shelter staff at Through These Doors, a domestic violence resource center, won a union election after nine months of organizing, and will now join the Maine Service Employees Association. Votes were tallied Sept. 28 and the results announced Wednesday in a news release.

Last week, the Maine Labor Relations Board approved the University of Maine Graduate Workers Union-United Auto Workers, after graduate students who work for the University of Maine System sought certification as a labor union.

Last year, staff at Brunswick nonprofit Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine organized a union with the Maine Service Employees Association Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union. Employees at the Portland sexual assault prevention nonprofit Speak About It voted unanimously to form a union with the Maine Service Employees Association.

Other groups of social service workers to organize with MSEA in southern Maine have been Planned Parenthood, Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine and the ACLU of Maine. 

In 2019, employees of Preble Street, a nonprofit social service agency based in Portland, joined the Service Employees International Union Local 1989.

Through These Doors

At Through These Doors, organizers of the union said it will make improvements that will lead to better survivor care and services.

“It is crucial that work in the DV [domestic violence] movement be sustainable for advocates and educators who carry out direct service. Increased sustainability means better quality services for survivors and our communities,” said Aurelia Blackstock, a child protective services systems advocate.

“To me, sustainability in the DV movement means that we exhibit the core values that we center in our work with survivors of self-determination, empathy, compassion and shared power in our workplace as well.”

Through These Doors supports victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking throughout Cumberland County, and offers a shelter, advocacy, certified domestic violence intervention programming, and school and community-based education. 

“I work at our shelter, and every day we are able to support and help empower survivors of domestic violence to reclaim autonomy over their lives,” said Johna Cook, a rapid rehousing advocate. “I am so grateful to stand alongside my coworkers to continue this work within our own organization, empowering each employee to have a voice over our own hours, wages, and working conditions.”

Workers at Through These Doors unsuccessfully sought voluntary union recognition from their employer. Instead, there was pushback, and a tense organizing campaign followed until the election, the release said.

The organization’s co-executive director, Rebecca Hobbs, told Mainebiz, "TTD respects the voices and votes of our employees. We are looking forward to continuing to work together to support survivors of domestic abuse in Cumberland County.”

In Maine, sexual assault prevention and response services and domestic violence resource centers are separated into different agencies. While Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine and Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine have unionized with MSEA in recent years, Through These Doors is the first domestic violence resource center in Maine to organize.

Workers at Through These Doors will now head into bargaining for their first contract, according to the release.

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