LEWISTON — At the start of 2013, a group of lobstermen from up and down the coast got together and achieved something that surprised many: They formed a union.

By the end of the year, the Maine Lobstermen Union boasted more than 600 members, and its list of achievements was growing fast.

It lobbied legislators in Augusta and defeated a bill that would have allowed the possession of lobsters caught by commercial dragging.

The union passed a law allowing active-duty service members to maintain their lobster licenses while on active duty.

It took on matters of affordable insurance for lobstermen and lobbied legislators to reduce the amounts of annual surcharges.

“For the first time,” said lobster boat Capt. Julie Eaton,”we feel like we have a voice. For the first time, we feel hope that we can protect our way of life.”


Eaton, of Stonington, is secretary and treasurer of the union and captain of the Cat Sass. On Friday night, she was just one lobsterman as the new union was honored with a Workers Solidarity Award by Western Maine Central Labor Council at the Workers’ Memorial Day and May Day Dinner.

“It’s a huge honor for us just to be here,” Eaton said.

The the council had the happy task of handing out that award and others Friday night, but there was also a grim duty at hand. The group, gathered at the Franco Center, spent significant time honoring the 20 Mainers who died on the job in 2013.

“We will remember those who left home one morning and didn’t return,” said the Rev. Casey Collins of the Calvary United Methodist Church in Lewiston.

Grim, yes — but the number is smaller than it has been some years — 32 Maine workers died in workplace accidents in 2011. It’s a number the Western Maine Central Labor Council would like to see decline even further, and it’s the main reason they spend so much time in Augusta, lobbying lawmakers for better safety measures.

“Safety in general is improving,” said Don Bilodeau, president of the group. “We keep lots of pressure on them.”


Not that they mean to take all the credit. The Maine economy may have played a part in the drop.

“There’s less construction happening,” said Don Berry, president of the Maine AFL-CIO. “You have fewer workers out there. That’s certainly a factor.”

In addition to the Maine Lobstermen Union, two others were awarded Friday night for their efforts in 2013.

Vinny O’Malley, a longtime union activist, was named winner of the Bruce D. Roy Solidarity Award for his commitment to the labor movement. Legal advocate Christine Hastedt was honored with the Frances Perkins Public Service Award, given to those who provide pro bono services in areas of labor and employment law.

For members of the Maine Lobstermen Union Local 207, Friday night marked their first appearance at the council’s annual event. But it probably won’t be their last.

“We’re growing day by day,” Eaton said. “We have a lot of momentum right now. It’s a very special group.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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.