LEWISTON — Labor leaders, union workers and state representatives gathered at the Franco-American Heritage Center on Sunday to honor those who have died on the job at the seventh annual Workers Memorial Day and May Day Dinner, presented by the Western Maine Labor Council.

“We’re here to remember all those who died on the job,” Council President Don Bilodeau said, clarifying that the event is not just for organized labor, but for all who lost their lives.

Bilodeau said there is some uncertainty over the number of workers killed on the job in the last year, with a number somewhere around 21. The only acceptable number, he said, is zero.

For the first time at this event, the labor council hosted an original play, which is based on the 11 panels of the Maine Labor Mural and written and directed by Deering High School drama and English teacher Kathleen Harris.

The mural by artist Judy Taylor has been the focus of controversy since Gov. Paul LePage ordered its removal from the Maine Department of Labor. LePage claimed he had the painting removed because it did not equally represent workers and business owners. The mural has since been relocated to the Maine State Museum.

Although taking creative license with the scenes in the mural, Harris stays true to each panel as a snapshot in time of each step in Maine’s labor history.

Harris said that although the story was dynamic and emotional on its own, “I had to put some love in it.” Harris said she added a love story and a death that were neither historical nor depicted in the mural.

Nancy Umba, a junior at Deering, delivered half her lines in French, depicting a Canadian immigrant who came to the U.S. to work in the mills.

Harris said that 20 students are performing the 40 roles. After performing at Deering, Thornton Academy and Hallowell, Harris said the kids are getting a lot of experience as a touring company with new stage sizes, settings and obstacles.

Bilodeau praised the the Deering performers for not only doing the play but knowing what it was all about. “Hopefully,” he said, “some day some of these kids will go on to be labor leaders.”

“It’s great to see the replica of the mural,” U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud said during his remarks, pointing to the wall-length duplicate at the event. He spoke of the many work-related deaths he has seen over the years, noting that many could have been prevented.

Michaud said that efforts to increase safety in the workplace are “not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is something that should be bipartisan. Sadly, it tends not to be in today’s Washington.”

The Western Maine Labor Council presented Harris with $500 out of appreciation for her work.

Dinner was provided by the Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s Green Ladle. 

After dinner, awards were given out. Cynthia Phinney, currently the recording secretary for the Western Maine Labor Council, was given the Worker’s Solidarity award for her many years of advocacy for workers’ rights.

Barbara Niccoli-Hiltz was given the Bruce D. Roy Solidarity Award for her local and national work with the AFL-CIO, educating, mobilizing and helping get the Western Maine Labor Council chartered.

Maine state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash won the Frances Perkins Award for making Maine’s families his priority as he advocates for the kinds of jobs on which all Maine workers can raise a family.

The event ended with a roll call of those workers lost in the last year. A bell from the Lewiston Fire Department was rung with each name read.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.