BREWER, Maine — Labor Day is not to be thought of as just another day off from work, but as a day to honor and respect those who do the work, Eastern Maine Labor Council President Jack McKay said Monday.
The labor council, in conjunction with Food AND Medicine, celebrated solidarity Monday with a press conference and four hours of food and music.
Although there was mention of recent television ads claiming that the Employee Free Choice Act would take away workers’ rights to a private ballot, the event didn’t focus on the labor council’s opinion that the ads are filled with lies.
Instead, McKay said the day was to honor the region’s work force and the legacy of organized labor, noting that Social Security and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were created because of organized labor.
“All these advances didn’t happen through magic or some sort of wonderful crystal ball,” McKay said.
In addition to remembering labor’s history, he noted that Labor Day is a time to consider what can be done to help future generations of laborers.
“It’s a good time to look at where we’re going in this country,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have this day.”
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The next year Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
Steve Husson spoke about one way in which the labor council and its nonprofit affiliate Food AND Medicine assist laid-off workers. Husson, who was laid off when DHL, a global delivery service in Brewer, closed its doors, explained the effort now under way to provide Thanksgiving dinners to laid-off workers and their families as part of the Solidarity Harvest. The harvest enlists small businesses, farmers and union members to put together baskets of food to make the holiday a little easier.
“This year, we’re going to really need a helping hand,” Husson said.
With the future of the Katahdin Paper mill in Millinocket uncertain, and a bankruptcy hearing scheduled today for Red Shield in Old Town, there are plenty of families that need assistance, he said.
Local clergy members also spoke at Monday’s event about the importance of Labor Day.
“Across the board, the biblical affirmation is that we are all created in the image of God,” said the Rev. David Grainger of the Orono United Methodist Church. He added that the right to unionize also is a biblical command.
Rabbi Darah Lerner of Congregation Beth El in Bangor had a similar story to share from the Torah. She said that in Jewish tradition, faith is not the only thing that’s judged when one meets God.
“When we see God, the first thing God is going to ask us is not about our faith, but about our behavior,” she said.
The Torah addresses behavior in business, saying not to abuse a needy laborer and recognizing the importance of paying wages on time.
It’s this history and tradition that McKay says is so important to remember on Labor Day.
“Maine workers are very hardworking,” he said. “They deserve it.”