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Controversy erupts over Troy Jackson threatening BIW while being paid by group seeking dispute

Controversy erupted this week when Speaker Sara Gideon (left) and Senate President Troy Jackson (right) sent a letter leveling a thinly veiled threat to Bath Iron Works, a Maine shipyard that builds ships for the U.S. Navy. Sen. Jackson was later revealed to have been on the payroll of the parent organization of the union pushing the dispute.

AUGUSTA – Controversy engulfed State Senate President Troy Jackson this week as he sought to beat back a growing storm of criticism over his actions in threatening to reconsider a tax credit the Maine Legislature approved for Bath Iron Works nearly two years ago. After an initial political tit-for-tat, Jackson was revealed to have been on the payroll of the parent organization of the union pushing the complaint against BIW at the time he signed the letter threatening the shipyard’s tax credits.

News broke on Wednesday that Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Sara Gideon had sent a letter to BIW on December 20th, 2019 that contained a thinly veiled threat that it “would be unfortunate” if the legislature had to reconsider the tax credit. The letter contained innuendos and items that had “come to the attention” of Gideon and Jackson, such as a suggestion that BIW jobs “are not jobs that pay well.”

BIW Vice President and General Counsel Jon Fitzgerald responded to the threat by Gideon and Jackson with a fairly exhaustive letter three days later laying out the facts and responding to the criticism leveled by the two top officials in the Maine Legislature.

Among those responses were that the reason that BIW’s average pay had dropped was that more than 700 veteran employees in highly skilled trades voluntarily retired, leaving the company to hire new, but lower paid workers just starting out in their careers. Fitzgerald also said that BIW’s average annual wage remained at more than $58,000 per year, compared to the state’s annual per capita income of $31,253. He also said they had hired more than 2,000 individuals since 2018 and would hire more, if more workers were available.

“As it has for over 100 years, BIW is committed to hiring Maine workers and remaining an important pillar in Maine’s economy,” said Fitzgerald in the letter.

The entire Wednesday story was covered in depth by Scott Thistle at the Portland Press Herald: https://www.centralmaine.com/2020/01/08/top-democratic-lawmakers-threaten-biws-45-million-tax-break/

But Friday, the Bangor Daily News reported that Jackson had disclosed in the Maine Ethics Commission’s little known statement of sources of income filing for legislators that at the time of the writing of the letter, Jackson was accepting an income from the parent union of the BIW union. Jackson had copied the President of that union on the letter he and Gideon sent threatening BIW with loss of their tax credit.

According to the BDN, Jackson admitted to having accepted $20k-$25k from the union for what amounted to a four-month stint, supposedly organizing loggers to join a union. Jackson also admitted to the BDN that his work had not resulted in any loggers actually joining the union. This leaves precious little evidence of any work Jackson accomplished while pulling down $5-$6k per month.

You can read the Bangor Daily News article here:

https://bangordailynews.com/2020/01/10/politics/top-maine-democrat-worked-for-biw-unions-parent-when-he-said-lawmakers-could-reconsider-tax-break/

In a statement released to the media, top Senate Republicans said that Jackson and Gideon had sent the letter “without the knowledge or consent of either body of the legislature.”

“Senator Jackson was a well-paid employee of the same union that represents workers at BIW. He then wrote and sent the letter on behalf of his employer in his capacity as Senate President. These actions by the Senate President are very concerning and create at least the appearance of improper conduct,” reads the statement from Senate Republican Leaders Sen. Dana Dow and Sen. Jeff Timberlake.

Senate Republicans also said they were looking into the facts of the matter, presumably Jackson’s role in signing the letter while accepting payment from one of the parties involved, “At this time, Senate Republican Leaders are gathering the facts and looking into the situation. Once we have learned all that we can about the actions of the Senate President, we will have more to say on the matter.”

House Republican leadership also weighed in on the controversial letter Jackson and Gideon sent to BIW.

“It is extremely important for members of the Legislature, particularly those in leadership, to seek and receive all pertinent information before releasing damaging and disparaging statements to the public,” said House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham (R-Oxford).

“Maine needs more employers like BIW. They are estimated to pay over $10 million dollars in property tax to the City of Bath.  Their employees contribute to their local economies through patronizing local businesses and through property taxes. To say that Bath Iron Works is vital to Maine’s economy would be an understatement. I encourage everyone to read the letter that was sent by the Speaker and Senate President as well as the thoughtful and detailed response from Bath Iron Works,” said Dillingham.

That statement from Senate Republicans seemed to trigger Jackson, who on Friday met with reporters to try to defend his actions.

A Maine Public report quotes Jackson at that meeting, saying that a “hit job” has been put out on him by BIW. Another report, this from the Portland Press Herald on Friday, saw Jackson denying a “conflict of interest.”

Bath Iron Works employs more than 6,700 at the shipyard and is one of the top employers in Maine. According to BIW, employees at BIW live and work in more than 292 Maine cities and towns. Payroll has increased by more than $30 million since 2018 and the shipyard plans to hire another 1,000 workers in 2020.

Over the last two years, the shipyard has invested more than $100 million in upgrading the facility and spent more than $13 million recruiting, hiring and training employees in 2019, in Maine’s tight labor market.

The shipyard proudly builds ships for the U.S. Navy and is the lead designer and builder of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer as well as one of the partners in the Zumwalt class, the Navy’s next-generation, multi-mission naval surface combatant.

Maine state law warns public officials at virtually all levels and positions in government against situations that even present the appearance of a conflict of interest.

While Senate President Jackson has tried to claim the mantle of labor democrat throughout his political career, he has also been known as a prominent partisan in Augusta and in regard federal elections.

Senate President Troy Jackson’s statement on sources of income:

https://www.maine.gov/ethics/sites/maine.gov.ethics/files/inline-files/jackson%20troy%20update.pdf

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