PORTLAND – A rally for better jobs, wages and health care drew a crowd of about 175 people Monday to the annual Labor Day breakfast sponsored by the Southern Maine Labor Council.

The gathering at the Maine Irish Heritage Center honored this year’s “working class heroes” and applauded talks by several labor activists and politicians, including 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who told listeners that “we have to put an end to the reign of power.”

The recipients of this year’s Working Class Hero awards were retired trade union activists John Newton and Wayne Poland.

Newton was one of the founders of the Maine Labor Group on Health and a force behind the passage of Maine’s “Worker Right-to-Know Law,” which requires employers to inform workers of hazardous substances in the workplace.

And Poland, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 35 years, was the president of his union for 22 years and remains an active member of the Southern Maine Labor Council.

Some of the younger members of the crowd said the men represented the tireless advocacy needed to achieve change today.

“We have a lot to learn from them, and that’s why I’m here. I would like to help people organize and connect, especially the working class and poor,” said Drew Christopher Joy, a 32-year-old Gorham native who recently returned to Maine from San Francisco, where he worked for a civil rights group.

Others said they came because they’re discouraged by the opportunities afforded to the middle class, and hoped the rally would offer solutions.

“I came because I support a future with a pension, and retirement benefits. There are no guarantees anymore that you can retire comfortably and enjoy the American dream,” said Kyle Bailey, 29, of Gorham, who works for a nonprofit.

“The opposition portrays unions as thugs,” Bailey said. “But they’re the people who help you in the post office, and the firefighter who rushes into your house when it’s burning. … They’re just regular people.”

The annual breakfast ended with about 60 chanting, “We are the 99 percent” as they marched in Portland’s West End.

The show of solidarity is always a part of the event, said Jesse Legallee of Arundel, a 30-year member of the painters union.

Pingree, a Democrat seeking re-election to Congress in November, said times have never been tougher, and the country is crippled by the fact that nationally, Republicans “want total control.”

Closer to home, she said, “Gov. Paul LePage does not think of the working people as his friend.”

State Sen. Jon Courtney of Springvale, a Republican small-business owner, is running against Pingree. Courtney has voted pro-union 11 percent of the time, according to the Maine AFL-CIO lifetime scorecard. However, he has promoted job creation by championing legislation to curb regulations, according to his campaign website.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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