More than 200 workers, labor leaders and elected officials gathered Monday in Portland to celebrate workers and their unions and call for increases in the minimum wage in Portland and across the state.

The annual Portland Labor Day Breakfast, hosted by the Southern Maine Labor Council, AFL-CIO, honored FairPoint workers who went on strike last year with the annual Working Class Heroes Award. The labor council also held a news conference to call for increases in the minimum wage for all workers, including tipped employees.

The FairPoint strike began on Oct. 17, 2014, when nearly 2,000 FairPoint employees in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communication Workers of America walked off their jobs to protest the company’s demands that the unions accept more than $700 million in contract concessions. The strike ended in late February after federal mediators intervened and the striking workers voted to ratify new collective bargaining agreements with the company.

Douglas Born, president of the Southern Maine Labor Council, presented the award to FairPoint union members with “deep respect and heartfelt gratitude” for their fight. Vicki Hill of the IBEW and Erica Pascucci of the CWA accepted the award on behalf of the unions.

“I never truly understood the meaning of solidarity until now,” Hill said, recalling supporters who brought food and coffee to workers on the picket line. She said others donated Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas gifts to workers who worried about how to care for their families during the strike.

“We spent 131 brutal days on the picket line. It’s very hard to put into words the impact this had on all of us,” Pascucci said. “The biggest thing I took out of all of this is that when we stay strong, we win.”

The annual breakfast, held at the Irish Heritage Center, was followed by a march up State Street to a news conference in Longfellow Square. There, workers and labor leaders called on the Portland City Council to support a more inclusive minimum wage increase in the city and to back a referendum to raise the state minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then a dollar a year to $12 in 2020.

In November, Portland voters will consider a citizens initiative referendum to establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage. On Wednesday, the City Council will reconsider an ordinance it passed to adopt a citywide minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage. The council had delayed the vote to give staff more time to develop proposals for how to handle the wages of tipped workers.

Heather McIntosh, a Portland resident who works at two restaurants while attending the University of Southern Maine and raising her young son, said councilors need to do right by workers who depend on tips to support their families. McIntosh said she works 70 hours a week in the summer to ensure she has enough money to make it through the winter, when her tips drop from $150 a day to $20 or less.

“Give us working parents an increase in the minimum wage so we have money to provide food for our kids,” she said.

The labor council announced its support for the Portland referendum on a $15 minimum wage and for an effort to get a statewide minimum wage increase on the 2016 ballot.

“Hardworking Americans deserve better than the poverty and dependence on the government today’s minimum wage provides,” Born said.

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