Union chief says workers helping in Houston

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Kerem Gungor, of Sabattus, who is a member of the Maine State Employees Association, right, enjoys his BBQ lunch as his children play with balloon’s they got at Monday’s Labor Day Celebration and BBQ at IBEW 567 Union Hall in Lewiston. They are Ayla, 10, right and Dialra, 4, in blue.Deb Fecteau, left, of Auburn, holds an ear of corn for her grandaughter Ellie Pelletier, 3 of Turner while her husband Rick cooks burgers Monday afternoon at the Western Maine Labor Council’s annual cookout at IBEW 567 Union Hall in Lewiston. Joining in on the fun is Jen Fecteau, top middle and Anthony Nacri with their children, Carter Nacri, watching Teagen Fecteau looking into a water bottle.

LEWISTON — Unions are going to be playing a huge role in rebuilding Houston after massive flooding after Hurricane Harvey, according to the keynote speaker who addressed nearly 300 union members and their families at the 11th annual Labor Day Community Barbecue on Monday afternoon.

The outdoor event took place at the Lewiston headquarters of Local 567, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on Goddard Road.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said in her keynote address, “We are a nation of people, many of whom have given everything in a journey to the United States, and the reason that we promote the issues of equality is because its unions that continue to make sure that we have a democracy.

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“How appropriate it is today that we celebrate Labor Day and the coming together of working people to form a safety net” for the people of Houston and others in dire circumstances, she said.

Nelson said there are 6,000 members of her organization among Houston residents who lost so much. AFA members are already in Texas “helping to tear down drywall” and do other tasks for devastated homeowners, she said.

Labor organizations will be at the forefront of revival efforts in East Texas because “nothing can keep us down,” Nelson declared.

“We lift each other up,” she said. “We have more in common than anything that can ever divide us.”

Nelson voiced hope that an alternative to scrapping the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, will be achieved and she hailed union efforts on behalf of health care for all.

Nelson became a United Airlines flight attendant in 1996 and has been a union activist since nearly the beginning of her flying career.

AFA is the world’s largest labor union organized by flight attendants for flight attendants. It represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 19 airlines.

Other speakers included Tyler O’Neil of AT&T Mobility, who presented an update on negotiations that have been going on since February, including a three-day strike in May.

Trent Beaule of the Lewiston Firefighters’ Association reported on legislative matters. He said successes include passage of a bill to ban flame retardants in furniture and passage of a bill related to easier proof in determination of post-traumatic stress disorder causes.

Lynn Bilodeau Blanch of Lewiston spoke on efforts to control health care costs.

Melissa Stevens, a single mother from Lewiston, and Ben Chin, candidate for mayor of Lewiston, supported the “Yes on 2” Medicaid expansion referendum.

The crowd included dozens of elected officials and political candidates for national, state and local offices.

Janet Mills, Maine Attorney General and candidate for governor, said many people at the barbecue talked with her about health care concerns.

Mills and many other local and state political figures were among volunteers cooking and serving the food. Hot dogs, sausage and hamburgers were featured, along with sweet corn and ice cream.

The Western Maine Labor Council  hosted the free public Labor Day barbecue.

Don Barry, council president, said, “This Labor Day, we call on working people to band together to rewrite the rules of the economy.

“Now, more than ever, we need to focus on raising wages, and giving workers a voice on the job,” he said. “This Labor Day, working people and the labor movement stand ready to do all we can to improve the lives of working Mainers.”

The Western Maine Labor Council represents more than 5,000 members from more than 20 unions in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.
Cynthia Phinney, council recording secretary, served as master of ceremonies for the event.

Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants relaxes in one of the tents where she was the keynote Labor Day speaker at the union hall in Lewiston on Monday afternoon.

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