Rock Alley: Maine Lobsterman, Machinists Union Pioneer

Rock Alley’s family has been lobster fishing off the coast of Maine for four generations.

It’s dangerous work. In an unforgiving climate. And recently, it’s been a very tough industry to make a living in—at least for independent lobster fishers like Alley.

Corporate-backed regulations have made it harder for Alley and others to compete with the big guys. And in Jonesport, a town of about 1,300 people on Maine’s northeast coast, there aren’t many ways to make a living other than lobstering. 

“As my dad told me years ago, he said, ‘Rocky, be quiet and go to work. You chose the profession. Go to work.’ And I do,” Alley told delegates Thursday at the IAM’s Grand Lodge Convention.

But he wanted to save his industry.

So a few years ago, when Alley heard about a meeting of lobster fishers, he went. It was put together by IAM District 4 Organizer Joel Pitcher, who had heard of their struggles.

Alley, and all 39 lobster fishers who came to the meeting, joined the cause.

Now he’s president of what’s called the Maine Lobstering Union, or IAM Local 207. They’ve made quite the impact.

Recently, a bill circulating the Maine State House would have allowed corporate fish draggers to catch up to 500 lobsters a day and bring them into Maine to sell. “This would have devastated my industry,” said Alley.

They had 59 lobster fishermen in the Maine State House the next day. “That bill was defeated 100 percent,” said Alley.

“Now I go to the State House, I don’t even get out of my vehicle, and they all understand, ‘Hey, look, the Maine Lobstering Union is here, Rocky’s here.”

It made Alley consider running for a seat himself.

“I would have waited a few more years, suggested by my wife,” said Alley.

He decided to go for it. The election is November 8. And he’s confident of his chances.

He was campaigning last week, meeting people he had never met before.

“By telling them my story—it didn’t matter if they were Democrats. Republicans, they all loved my story,” said Alley. “They were asking me for signs to put on their lawns. And these were Republicans, strong Republicans, but they understood what I stand for, the working class people.”

He says he owes the positive changes in the lobstering industry—and his newfound political aspirations—to the union.

“It’s changed my entire life for the better,” said Alley. “I have sacrificed some, but I am willing to sacrifice some for the great benefits that we are going to reap in the near future as being part of this local and being part of the International.”

It means he has the support of IAM members from all over Maine, and the United States and Canada.

“I’m not accustomed to people taking up for me, watching my back,” said Alley. “Now, I understand how great it can be by being a part of this union.”