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Maine Lobster Union Points the Way for Organizing Gig Economy Workers

Acting together, boat crews have won greater bargaining power—and tuition for their kids.

A harvest at Lobster 207, a wholesale operation that works with unionized lobstermen.

A harvest at Lobster 207, a wholesale operation that works with unionized lobstermen.

Photographer: Tristan Spinkski for Bloomberg Businessweek

Lobstering is an inherently individualistic pursuit. Most boats are crewed by just two or three people, and some captains go it alone. They leave harbor before dawn, spend the day hauling traps up from the seafloor , then motor back to the dock to sell the creatures for the best price they can get. It’s hard work that draws rugged, self-reliant people—in other words, not your typical union members.

That’s what makes Local 207—the only lobstering union in the US—so unusual. The decade-old group in Maine represents about 200 lobstermen (as men and most women in the business call themselves). The union members own three 18-wheel trucks, a pair of smaller vehicles for hauling the produce from wharves, and a so-called tank room, a warehouse packed with tubs of refrigerated ocean water in which the crustaceans spend a final few days in something resembling their home environment before reaching their ultimate fate: a quick plunge into a vat of boiling water. “We work for the fisherman,” says Jason Rizzitano, manager of the tank room near Bar Harbor.