BREWER, Maine — To kick off the annual Labor Day celebration, members and supporters of the Eastern Maine Labor Council stood up to remind the public why labor unions — and what they fight for — are so important.
“We’re here to celebrate the American worker and the unions that gave us the weekend, the 40-hour workweek, safe workplaces and the empowerment of workers here and around the world,” said Scott Cuddy, an IBEW Local 1253 member who works at United Electrical Systems.
Paid overtime after working 40 hours a week, and personal and family medical leave, and ending child labor are a few more examples of how the work of labor unions has changed lives in the United States, Jack McKay, the Eastern Maine Labor Council president, added.
After the speakers, former Maine legislator Harlan Baker performed his one-man play “Jimmy Higgins: A Life in the Labor Movement.” That was followed by blues and folk music performed by Cormac McCarthy of South Berwick, who replaced Bill Morrissey of New Hampshire who was scheduled to play but could not due to illness.
McCarthy was Morrissey’s college roommate and was recommended by the twice Grammy-nominated performer, McKay said before the music began.
The annual Labor Day event is sponsored by the labor council and Food AND Medicine, and all funds raised help pay for the Solidarity Harvest, which last year put around 150 Thanksgiving Day meals on the tables of local displaced workers.
The seven speakers who took the podium on Monday, spoke about national health care reform, young workers, loss of good-paying jobs in eastern Maine, the Employee Free Choice Act, and supporting U.S. 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud’s new trade bill and an effort to stop the number of tires imported from China.
“I know that many people don’t have access to health care at all,” Joey Voisine, SEIU Local 1989 member, said at a press conference before the event. “This is wrong. This is America. We can do better.”
Voisine said he has had to juggle supporting a family, paying for health care and running a business, so “I know firsthand what it’s like” to go without.
Emery Deabay, a Steelworker Local 1188 member who works at the Bucksport mill, Mario Moretto, event organizer and intern at Food AND Medicine, and the Rev. Mark Doty, from the Hammond Street Congregational Church, also spoke at the press conference.
The last speaker was Laura Birger, organizer for the Solidarity Harvest, who said that with the bad economy, the decision has been made to expand to Thanksgiving Day meals to include needy families with children in the area.
The meal is also a way to support local farmers, who supply the vegetables and who are having a very tough year because of heavy rain in June and July, she said.
In the “shadow of another 200,000 jobs lost last month” and “the highest unemployment numbers in more than 25 years,” Cuddy said, there are challenges ahead, but also hope provided by labor unions.
“As we look back at the havoc wreaked on so many of our lives by [this] recession, we can look ahead with confidence because we know that the labor movement is here protecting workers’ rights and livelihoods,” Cuddy said. “We know that although life is uncertain, we have someone looking out for our best interest, everyday Americans best interest, not the interests of the rich and powerful.”
For more information about the local labor union or Food AND Medicine, call 989-5860.