LEWISTON — The Western Maine Labor Council held it’s ninth annual Worker’s Memorial Day Dinner on Sunday evening at the Franco Center, honoring Mike Michaud, Charles Scontras and the workers of FairPoint for their resilience during their four-month strike.
The evening began with a presentation of colors by the Lewiston Fire Department color guard and bagpipes played by Sue Mack. A prayer was offered by Auburn Police Department chaplain the Rev. Roger Cousineau.
As dinner started, local leaders, state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, state Sen. Nate Libby and Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin were called to the line to serve the many union members and guests.
Michaud was so at ease in labor union crowd he would have been easy to miss. The main honoree of the evening, Michaud was presented with the Frances Perkins Award for his service to the working people of Maine.
Michaud said that besides the award, he was there to remember those who died on the job in Maine.
“I think it’s important that we recognize those individuals who continue to fight to make sure that the workplace is safe for the workers,” Michaud said.
Michaud said it is an “extreme” honor to receive the Frances Perkins Award.
“She’s from Maine — she definitely was an individual who fought for worker’s rights and I’m just honored to receive the Frances Perkins Award,” he said.
When asked what he’s been up to since returning from Washington, Michaud said he’s still been pretty busy, having attended several meetings and “still doing a lot of stuff I was doing as a member of congress such as fighting for our veterans issues — still working with Easter Seals and what they’re doing.”
Michaud also said he was working with “Bridge in a Backpack technology that I was able to get funding for when I was a member of Congress — still meeting and trying to get that technology deployed throughout the country.”
He said he will be returning to Washington, D.C., for a meeting on how to accomplish just that. The Bridge in a Backpack, developed by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center can build a bridge using inflatable tubes that fit inside a medium-size duffel bag.
The tubes can then be formed, covered and topped with resin. Once dry, the lightweight forms can be fitted by hand before they are filled with concrete to create a lasting structure.
Charles Scontras received the Bruce D. Roy Solidarity Award for, as the WMLC put it, “Charlie’s efforts enrich our understanding of the contributions of working people and labor organizations in Maine, create a source of knowledge that would not otherwise exist and provide a framework for historians as they peer deeper into Maine’s past in search of guidance on the controversies of present day.”
The retired University of Maine history professor has several publications to his credit chronicling labor in Maine from 1636 to the early 1900s.
“This community of Lewiston and Auburn as you know,” Scontras said, “was just a great manufacturing center, no question about it. They dominated the manufacturing world for a long while.”
Scontras said, “Every time I pass one of these old textile buildings that now get converted into boutiques and professional buildings and restaurants and so on and so forth, my main interest falls back to the people that paraded through those gates.
“I was interested in those mills primarily because my parents were from Greece and my mother worked in the mills,” Scontras said.
“Picture as best as you can, two immigrants coming here along with 25 million-plus other immigrants in that 50-year stretch of time between 1877 and 1927 and picture them coming here,” Scontras said. “And picture my mother, who knew nothing about the industrial revolution, facing 20th-century technology as she worked in the paper mills.”
Scontras said when he tries to imagine those workers in the early days, he said, “try to imagine working in multi-story buildings without a fire escape — try to imagine working in a place where the cry for fresh air you could hear regularly — try working in a place where you could be fined for a fainting spell.
“You could be fined for imperfect work or accidental damage to work — you could be fined for reading a newspaper — you could be fined if you went to your brother’s funeral and you didn’t return to work,” Scontras said, often leading to an empty paycheck.
The Worker’s Solidarity Award went to FairPoint members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 and the Communication Workers of America.
For 131 days, FairPoint workers stood on the picket lines through the long winter with 1,400 members in all leading a campaign on the roadsides and in social media with their Facebook page, Fairness at FairPoint. After a federal mediator was brought in, both sides sat down and workers returned to their jobs in late February.
Following the award ceremony, the names of 17 workers who died on the job were read by Mike Michaud and Master of Ceremonies Allan Shepard as Max Couture of the Lewiston Fire Department color guard rang a bell for each life lost.
Maine Workers killed on the job in 2014
Philip M. Coward
Derek A. Fish
Jason A. Gourley
Tomas I. Hammond
Jane L. Jaques
James L. Laurita
Scott W. McDonald
Gary L. McGuire
Brant E. Munster
Sidney D. Oakes
Jeremy R. Philbrook
Michael J. Rowe
Tyler T. Sawyer
Charles W. Seymour
Daniel L. Trueworthy
James W. Woodward