June 24, 2018
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Hundreds turn out for union barbecue in Lewiston

By David A. Sargent, Special to the Lewiston Sun Journal

LEWISTON, Maine — Good food and good friends combined for the Western Maine Labor Council’s fifth annual Labor Day barbecue Monday afternoon.

Several hundred people gathered for the event at the union hall of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 567, on Goddard Road where volunteers manned a line of gas grills turning out hamburgers and sausage for the crowd.

It was a fun-filled family occasion which also provided an opportunity for the local workers and union leaders to call for action on creating jobs during a Working Families Press Conference.

Don Bilodeau, a tinsmith at Bath Iron Works and Working Families Press Conference president, said, “We have some of the best workers in the world, but we are struggling for our jobs.”

He said, “In this tough economy, everyone’s doing more with less.” With a backdrop of dozens of posters stating “America Wants To Work” and “Tax Wall Street,” Bilodeau told the crowd, “Today, we honor all working men and women and call on elected officials to present real solutions to the economic challenges and job crisis working families face.”

In remarks at the news conference, Mike Casteneda told how he and his co-workers at the Wassau paper mill in Jay lost their jobs and struggled with retraining. Many also lost their homes and their savings, he said. He noted that he once walked two minutes to his job at the mill in Jay, but now has to make a 45-minute commute to Lewiston.

Shanna Rogers of Lewiston, mother of twin 6-year-old boys and another young son, said she was “priced out of our home” and she now has to work three part-time jobs.

“We need to hold the big banks that caused this crisis accountable,” she said.

A six-point Good Jobs Plan of the AFL-CIO was outlined briefly by Working Families Press Conference officer Don Berry. The plan urges rebuilding America’s schools, transportation and energy systems; reviving U.S. manufacturing and stopping the export of jobs; putting people to work; helping federal, state and local government avoid more layoffs and public service cuts; extending unemployment benefits and keeping homeowners in their homes; and “reforming Wall Street so that it helps Main Street create jobs.”

Don Vachon, a city of Auburn maintenance worker, explained a petition being circulated in support of Auburn city employees who are seeking to organize.

Joe Mailey spoke in favor of a “yes” vote for the referendum on same-day voter registration.

Several municipal and state officials attended, including Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert and former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.

The event had a rain-or-shine provision, but good weather allowed people to enjoy the food and festivities outdoors. There was a children’s tent for face painting and other activities sponsored by ArtVan, and “The Great Stephen,” a magician, entertained from table to table.

The menu featured locally raised meat from Farmers’ Gate Market in Wales. The menu also included corn on the cob, watermelon, brownies and ice cream.

Several union connections were emphasized by the organizers, including plates made and donated by United Steelworkers Local 449 workers at the Huhtamaki plant in Waterville, and hamburger and hot dog buns made by Bakers Local 334 and delivered statewide by teamster Local 340.

Other sponsors and participants among the 19 unions of the WMLC and the 6,000 workers they represent in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties were American Life Insurance (OPEIU), Androscoggin and Lewiston Democrats, AFSCME 1458, AFSCME 2011, International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 4, Laborers Local 327, Machinists Local S6, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Education Association, Maine State Employee Association SEIU 1989, McTeague, Higbee, Case, Cohen, Whitney & Toker law firm, Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, and United Steelworkers Local 14.

To see more from the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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