Mark Cayer, the Lewiston School Committee chairman and former three-term city councilor, serves hot dogs to people attending Western Maine Labor Council’s free Labor Day barbecue at the IBEW 567 Union Hall in Lewiston on Monday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON – A renowned and veteran labor educator told a group of more than 100 workers Monday afternoon that getting universal health care for Americans “will be the fight of our generation.”

Jose La Luz, an organizer, campaigner and educator with three decades of experience, spoke at the Western Maine Labor Council’s annual Labor Day barbecue in the parking lot of the IBEW Local 567 Union Hall on Goddard Road.

His message to residents of Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties focused entirely on health care for all.

La Luz, who helped lead a grassroots campaign to achieve collective bargaining rights for public workers in Puerto Rico, said there are “more than 37 million workers in this country that do not have health care.

“I’ll tell you one thing, for the wealthiest country on the face of the earth to have millions of working Americans who do not health care, it’s a travesty,” he said to a round of applause. “If we can spend (billions) of dollars to put a man on the moon, we can find the money to make sure that each American has health care coverage.”

Joe Mailey, vice president of the Western Maine Labor Council, said that in 2008 while he was laid off from his steelworking job, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Addy Pelkey of Minot eats an ear of corn while her cousin Wyatt Kitchen of Sabattus munches on a hot dog at the Western Maine Labor Council’s annual Labor Day barbecue Monday at the IBEW 567 Union Hall in Lewiston. They came with their great-grandmother who is a retired union worker. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“In 2009, my health insurance expired around the same time that my physician insisted I take daily blood sugar counts,” he said, adding that the cost of a week’s supply of testing strips was the equivalent of a month of his unemployment checks.

“I was left feeling angry, anxious and afraid,” Mailey said. “I was in fear of hurting myself and getting more sick because I didn’t have health insurance.”

Mailey said he is a veteran of a foreign war, has owned a home, paid taxes and “worked whenever I could.”

“The health insurance concept that we have failed me, just as it has failed millions of others in this country,” he told the crowd. “This is why I support a health care system where everyone is in and nobody is out.”

Many elected officials attended the barbecue, including U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston; Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport; and Lewiston School Committee Chairman Mark Cayer.

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