Government must put people first

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Welcome to Maine. Open for business. The sign went up, the mural came down, and here we are in a state where, suddenly, business comes before people.

While the taking down of the mural depicting Maine’s great workers is the most visual action by our state government, it’s the work being done out of sight of the camera that will be the most devastating to Maine workers.

We have bills this session looking to strip worker protections from almost every angle. Bills to allow businesses to pay child workers less than minimum wage and have them work longer hours. Bills to lessen the rights of injured workers and lessen the oversight of businesses’ treatment of those workers. We have seen attempts to remove the Labor Committee, to weaken Maine’s unions, reduce overtime pay, and give Canadian workers tax breaks.

What happened to Gov. Paul LePage’s promise to put people first? It seems that all of the work being done by our government this year is a one-sided approach to help business without any regard for the negative impact on the employee.

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Is this the direction Maine should take?

It’s time Gov. LePage gave the people of Maine some respect. It is clear Gov. LePage has a strong desire to encourage business development in Maine, but by disregarding the rights and well-being of employees, any potential quest for business development is fruitless. LePage seems to have forgotten that the people of Maine are the true constituencies of the state government. The people are the ones who put the government in power, they are the ones the government works for, and they are the ones we all must rely on to help make this state succeed.

More specifically, Maine’s impressive workforce is what allows businesses to be able to operate and succeed in our state. With the incredible emphasis our governor and our state legislators are placing on Maine being “business-friendly,” it is increasingly startling to see them launching what seems to be a full-fledged attack on Maine workers.

Since when did workers become the enemy?

Attacking the rights of workers and disrespecting the history of workers in Maine will not help our state in any way. Rather, it only serves to highlight Maine as a state with an administration that has no respect for its workers and low standards for the ongoing viability of the state as a whole.

One wonders what kind of businesses this type of administration will be able to recruit to Maine. Certainly not the type of businesses that will treat employees fairly, respect worker safety, and care about the well-being of our state and its people. This is not the way to build Maine’s future.

We need a government who values Maine workers, not demonizes them. We need a leader who wants to improve the lives of Maine workers, not legislate at the expense of them. We need a governor who wants to hear from Maine workers rather than out-of-state business owners. We need a governor who values democracy, not mocks it with crass one-liners.

Workers are not special interests. Workers built this state and are crucial to the state’s future. Without adequate support and respect for Maine workers, businesses cannot succeed here. Without workers, Maine cannot run. Being supportive of workers is not being anti-business. Quite the opposite. When workers are treated well and respected, businesses are more successful.

Gov. LePage has spent his first 100 days catering to the whims of big businesses. I hope he considers spending his remaining days doing what he initially promised when elected — putting people first. Given his actions thus far, hope is fleeting.

Karen Bilodeau is an attorney and shareholder at the law firm, McTeague Higbee. She is from Auburn.

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