Educating Maine’s Workforce

If you’re a movie fan, then you probably saw the movie “The Graduate.”  Dustin Hoffman’s first movie.  The one where he plays Benjamin, who has just graduated from college, doesn’t know what to do with his life, and needs to find a job.  The one where Benjamin’s father’s friend whispers to Benjamin at his graduation party “I’ve got one word for you.  ‘Plastics.’”

Today the word might be different.  “Internet.”  “Computers.”  “Software.”  “Semiconductors.”

But some things haven’t changed much over the last 50 years.  With graduation looming for some, and the folks about to throw you out of the house and stop paying the bills, like Benjamin, you’ll have to get a job.  Time to go to work.

Others of you have been working for years.  And with unemployment still at near record highs, too many other Mainers have lost their jobs and are out there looking for work.

If you already had a job, you may already know the words I’m about to mention.  But if you are about to start your first job, and if I were invited to your graduation party, first I would say “Congratulations.”  Then I would whisper not one, but two words to you.  “At will.”  Those are two words you need to know when you go to work.

Hopefully your job is your dream come true.  But sometimes those dreams turn into nightmares.  Every day, people call my office to tell me a workplace tale of woe.  How they’ve been fired by their employer, how the boss treated them unfairly, how they want to sue the bastards.

My response is always the same.   First I ask if they are in a union or have an employment contract.  The answer is almost always no.  And that’s when I explain the words “at will” to them.

In America, without a union or a contract, you are an “at will” employee.  That means you can be fired for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all.  It probably says that right on the first page of the handbook the employer made you sign for but never gave you the time to read.  Contrary to what you might think, in the good old US of A, and in the great State of Maine, the courts say you have very few rights in the workplace.

Today the Bangor Daily News begins running our blog Maine at Work.  Maine at Work will tell you about what rights you do have, and how to exercise those rights.  How to protect yourself, and how to obtain justice.  We will tell you about the law of the workplace here in Maine, and sometimes around the nation.  We will talk about legislation that might affect you, and cases that you might be interested in.

Our aim is not just to educate, but to exchange ideas.  Tell your friends and coworkers about Maine at Work.   We invite you to tell us what you think.  Challenge us.  Disagree with us.  But let’s see if we can start a dialogue between employers and employees and in the process make Maine a better place in which to work.