Maine Democratic Gov. Janet Mills on Friday vetoed a bill backed by her party to allow farmworkers to unionize, the Bangor Daily News reports.
Mills, who has feuded with more progressive lawmakers in the state legislature, last year vetoed more than a dozen bills relating to labor and social justice.
She delayed action on the farmworker bill, which passed in July, until last week.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Thom Hartnett, would allow workers at farms that employ five or more people to collectively bargain.
The legislation also includes enforcement and mediation processes.
The bill was aimed at closing a gap in state and federal labor law for farmworkers, who are not typically covered by the state’s minimum wage and overtime laws.
Mills cites economic struggles:
Mills vetoed the bill on Friday, citing the economic struggles faced by the state’s dairy industry.
More than 100 dairy farms in the state have shuttered over the last decades, she said.
Mills argued that while farmworkers should have protections where factory farms are dominant, Maine relies on family farms that would have a more difficult time absorbing new costs.
“While this bill is well-intended, I fear its unintended consequence would discourage the growth of farms in Maine,” Mills wrote.
Advocates push back:
Hartnett, a former migrant aid lawyer who worked under Mills when she was attorney general, said the exemptions Mills wanted for family farms “perpetuate institutional racism.”
“While I’m disappointed for myself as a legislator, that pales in comparison to the disappointment I have for the hardworking men and women who toil long hours to feed us,” he said.
Farm interests strongly opposed the bill.
“Legislation that would restrict the ability to plant, care for and harvest our crops would risk the livelihood of Maine farmers and those employees that rely on the jobs Maine farms provide,” the Maine Potato Board said in a statement.