BRUNSWICK, Maine — U.S. Labor Secretary and former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spent the day in Maine Tuesday. Walsh met with a number of Maine's political leaders including Governor Janet Mills, and Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, as well as business leaders. The focus of Tuesday's discussion centered around the state's response to unemployment due to the pandemic, and efforts to keep workers employed through programs like the WorkShare program.
"Hearing the stories today, this is something we should be looking at long term. Not just pandemic time, but long term," Secretary Walsh said.
Walsh and others gathered on the campus of Bowdoin College for a roughly one-hour roundtable discussion.
Governor Mills and MDOL Commissioner Laura Fortman touted the state's WorkShare program, while business owners who adopted the program shared how it helped them survive the pandemic.
The WorkShare program allows employers to reduce employee work hours, without having to lay them off. Workers are able to keep benefits such as health insurance, and the program offsets lost income for employees by allowing them to receive partial unemployment benefits.
"Businesses get to keep their skilled workforce, and they don't have to worry about finding a new employee to replace them," Gov. Mills.
"We were able to save around 40 employees working four days a week, and then being paid for five, so it was really critical to lessen the layoff that we had to go through," American Roots co-founder Ben Waxman, who took part in the roundtable, said.
According to Gov. Mills and Commissioner Fortman, the WorkShare program was used by 246 employers from March 2020 through September 2021. They say 5,029 employees worked on reduced hours and received partial unemployment benefits as a result.
"This is an idea, a model that can be used across the country," Sec. Walsh said.
According to the MDOL, only 26 states in the country use the WorkShare program.
The Republican National Committee spoke out against Sec. Walsh's visit to Maine, writing in a statement:
"Maine families and businesses do not want to be lectured by Marty Walsh or Janet Mills on the job-killing environment they created along with Joe Biden. Mills’ economic shutdowns have been a millstone around the neck of job creators from Bangor to Brunswick, and Walsh’s stamp of approval speaks volumes to those who have suffered under her failed leadership,” RNC Spokesperson Andrew Mahaleris said.
Sec. Walsh also met with Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and leaders in Maine's logging industry on Tuesday.