From the time of the firm’s founding in 1976, McTeague Higbee has been a union law firm. Our identity has been forged and reinforced through decades of representing shipbuilders, papermakers, electricians, plumbers and pipefitters, carpenters, laborers and other workers who have been fortunate enough to belong to a union. Through these years, McTeague Higbee has also been privileged to serve as counsel to the Maine AFL-CIO, the organization that has done so much to promote the cause of union membership in Maine and champion the cause of all Maine workers. We wear it as a badge of honor that our sole allegiance is on the side of working people, not employers and their insurance companies.
But as strong as our union cred has been throughout our history, it has recently become even stronger. Not only does McTeague Higbee represent unions and their members, we are now a union shop ourselves. In late 2012 the staff of McTeague Higbee notified the firm of its intent to unionize. The firm’s management promptly and voluntarily recognized the staff as a legitimate bargaining unit, and in 2013 we conducted negotiations with the staff—very ably represented by International Association of Machinists (IAM) District Lodge 4—that culminated in a mutually acceptable collective bargaining agreement. That agreement was ratified by the bargaining unit members in September of 2013.
This union contract now governs the conditions of employment and the relations between management and staff in many aspects of the firm’s operations: wages, fringe benefits, vacation and leave time, seniority and disciplinary action, among many other provisions. As with all union contracts, ours assures our staff a uniform standard by which to judge their conduct and performance and a uniform process to mediate disputes. Most fundamentally, the collective bargaining agreement gives our staff a seat at the table—a means by which to exercise some control over their conditions of employment.
As far as we know, McTeague Higbee is unique among Maine law firms in having a unionized work force. We take pride in not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. We know from our decades of union representation that belonging to a union provides working people not only with enforceable contractual obligations, but also with a better understanding of just how much they are worth to their company. We have seen the feeling of pride in our own staff grow in the wake of our successful contract negotiations. This has only reinforced to the firm the power and importance of unions and the importance of our legal work on their behalf.
“Solidarity” has long been the watch-word of the union movement. Thanks to the unionization of McTeague Higbee staff, we now have solidarity with our own employees as well as our union clients. That is what I call progress.
Jeffr Cohen is an attorney and partner at McTeague Higbee.