Hoping to fight 2012's price drop, Maine lobstermen unionize

5:49 PM, May 8, 2013   |    comments
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BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine (NECN) - In 2012, Maine Lobstermen saw the lowest price for their catch in a decade.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of last year's boat prices, several hundred lobstermen are considering joining a union.
Mark Brewer fishes out of Boothbay Harbor on the Abby Rose.
And he says in the last few years it's gotten much harder to make ends meet.
"The cost of everything is going up. Fuel. Bait. How long can we sustain this? Not long," says Brewer. 
Brewer is one of nearly 300 Maine lobstermen who are joining the new Maine Lobstering Union, which will operate under the auspices of the International Association of Machinists, the union that represents thousands of shipbuilders and paper mill workers. 
"They need a collective voice," says union organizer Joel Pitcher. "They're really at a place where they need to come together if they're going to preserve their way of life. "
Pitcher says they'll work to provide the harvesters with health care, pensions, and most importantly help them get a better price from dealers and processors.
But there are questions about whether lobstermen, who own their own businesses, can even negotiate price as a group
According to federal law, specifically the Sherman Antitrust Act, lobstermen can't collude on price. 
What's more, Maine Lobstermen are bound by a Consent Decree that bars them from price setting. 
"The law is the law and we have to abide by the law."
Patrice McCarron with the Maine Lobstermn's Association has flagged these and other concerns on a new web site that encourages members to get more information before they become dues paying members. 
"Quite frankly we haven't seen a lot of substance from this group and that's very concerning," says McCarron.
She questions whether an out-of-state union with no experience in fishing can solve the complex problems related to lobster price. 
Pitcher did not say exactly how the union would exert it's influence to negotiate price.
He says the members would not strike, but they would use their considerable resources to bargain for higher prices. 
"We bring a large pool of resources and plan to help the lobstermen through that process," said Pitcher. 
From Mark Brewer's perspective..being part of a large bargaining unit can only help. 
" I think with their tools and support, we're gonna have more power than we've ever had," said Brewer.
He figures it's worth trying something new if it helps to keep his business afloat. 


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