The Strong Arm of the Law

Paralegals Ellen Campbell, left, and Carol Sanborn, right, helped negotiate a contract with their employer, a Topsham, ME law firm that specializes in labor law.

With more than 5,000 contracts covering workers in dozens of major industries, the IAM is recognized as one of the most diversified labor unions in North America. But a recent contract negotiated for paralegals and office personnel in Maine brings that diversity into sharp relief.

The agreement negotiated by IAM District 4 covers legal professionals at McTeague, Higbee, Case, Cohen, Whitney & Toker, a highly-regarded firm that has represented organized labor in Maine for decades, specializing in labor law, worker’s compensation and related cases.

While the Topsham, ME-based law firm has enjoyed a long relationship with the Maine AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions, the relationship proved to be a challenge when the employees decided to organize.

“Our situation was complex,” said Paralegal and bargaining committee member Carol Sanborn. “Because of the existing relationships, we were asking a client to take on its own lawyers on our behalf. As a result, we needed representation tough enough to see this through to the end without compromising our position, and with integrity beyond reproach. We were confident the IAM and District 4 fit this description.”

The new three-year accord features wage increases of 3.5 percent in the first year and 3 percent in each of the next two years. The contract also includes the IAM Benefit Trust Healthcare plan, the IAM Pension Plan, grievance procedure and arbitration, seniority provisions for classification and layoff/recall as well as improved paid time off.

“We wanted skilled, strong and intelligent leadership,” said Paralegal and bargaining committee member Ellen Campbell. “Working with Directing Business Representative (DBR) Joe Flanders, Assistant Directing Business Representative David Sullivan and Business Representative George Edwards more than met our expectations. Although negotiations were long and at times arduous, the end result greatly improved our wages, benefits and work life.”

The tentative agreement was fittingly completed by Labor Day and overwhelmingly ratified in early September.

“This is yet another great example of looking at non-traditional workers and workplaces for organizing opportunities,” said Eastern Territory General Vice President Lynn D. Tucker, Jr. “Congratulations go to our new members and District DBR Joe Flanders and his entire staff. They aren’t strangers to going out of the traditional comfort zone to help all workers achieve fairness, equality and justice on the job.”

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