Union members and their supporters gathered Monday in Portland to celebrate the labor movement and call for Mainers to fight back against anti-labor policies and officials.

DrewChristopher Joy, director of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, told the crowd that over the past year, workers in Portland have stepped up to say they deserve paid sick time.

The annual Labor Day breakfast hosted by the Southern Maine Labor Council AFL-CIO brought together union members and supporters to celebrate the success of the labor movement and call for workers to stand together in support of expanded freedom. Union leaders and elected officials asked workers to support labor-friendly candidates during the midterm elections, rally for universal health care and oppose Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“It would expand our collective freedom profoundly if there was guaranteed health care (from) cradle to grave, if it was a fundamental human right,” said Southern Maine Labor Council Executive Director Matt Schlobohm.

Schlobohm said the labor movement is at its best when it is fighting for the freedoms of workers who spend the vast majority of their lives in the workplace.

“That hunger for freedom at large and freedom at work is coursing through Maine workers right now and collective action is very much on the rise,” he said. “The question for us as a labor movement is can we harness that hunger, that desire that is there.”

The Labor Day breakfast was heavily attended by Democratic state legislators and candidates for office. Attorney General Janet Mills, who is running against Republican Shawn Moody for governor, posed frequently for photos with supporters and spoke briefly to the crowd about her support for Maine workers.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who this year faces two opponents in the 1st Congressional District, called on Mainers to bring change to Washington by electing Democrats in November and doing “everything we can to stop the disaster that is our country.” She said she will return to Washington on Tuesday as hearings begin on Kavanaugh, whom she called another potential “anti-labor Supreme Court justice taking away even more of our freedoms.”

Elizabeth Wolff of Exeter, N.H., leads the Leftist Marching Band from Portsmouth, N.H., as it joins the Southern Maine Labor Council’s march to Longfellow Square on Monday. The rally supported a proposal in Portland for universal paid sick time.

The Southern Maine Labor Council this year gave its Working Class Hero Award to workers from Hospice of Southern Maine who attempted to organize as a union to improve working conditions and patient care. Douglas Born, president of the labor council, said their attempt to organize was met with hostility from their employer, but the workers showed “true grit and tenacity” in their ongoing fight to unionize.

“They’re still fighting and they’re still working to improve things for their patients,” he said.

The keynote address was given by Barbara Madeloni, a teacher and outgoing president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. She highlighted the ongoing fights by teacher unions across the country for better working conditions and called on workers to stand together to show their power.

“I believe that we as the working class have our power because we have each other,” she said.

After the breakfast, workers led by the Leftist Marching Band of New Hampshire marched with signs to Longfellow Square for a rally in support of universal earned paid sick time in Portland. Marchers carried banners and signs that read: “No one should have to choose between their health and their job” and “Workers keep Portland healthy.”

The Keep Portland Healthy Coalition and supporters celebrated the first anniversary of the campaign to support a universal earned sick leave ordinance in Portland. The campaign was launched last Labor Day in a rally at the same spot.

“Over the past year, workers in Portland have stepped up to say this is something we deserve,” said DrewChristopher Joy, director of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center.

The proposed ordinance, drafted by the Maine Women’s Lobby and Southern Maine Worker’s Center and being championed by Mayor Ethan Strimling, would require Portland businesses to provide all employees with one paid sick hour for every 30 hours worked. Advocates estimate that the proposal, which would allow employees to earn and use up to six paid sick days a year, would help 19,000 workers in the city, mostly in the restaurant and hospitality industries. Any unused time would roll over to the following year, but would not be paid to employees if they leave their job.

The initial draft of the earned paid sick time ordinance is being opposed by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. More than 20 local businesses have endorsed the ordinance, according to supporters.

Portland city councilors are scheduled to review the ordinance at a meeting on Sept. 11.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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