September 3, 2013

Breakfast welcomes Maine's new lobstermen's union

The president of the new lobstermen’s union says he was overwhelmed by support across the state.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - The state's newest labor union was celebrated Monday during the Southern Maine Labor Council's annual Labor Day breakfast at the Irish Heritage Center.

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People at the Southern Maine Labor Council’s Labor Day breakfast sing “Solidarity Forever.” From left are Ned McCann of Portland, Peter Kellman of North Berwick, Sarah Bigney, AFL-CIO staff from Hallowell, and Charles Scontras of Cape Elizabeth.

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Maine Lobstermen’s Union President Rock Alley speaks during the Labor Day breakfast at the Irish Heritage Center.

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Rock Alley of Jonesport, president of the new Maine Lobstermen's Union, said he was overwhelmed by the support lobster fishermen across the state have received as they pushed forward their grassroots effort to organize.

"It just blew my mind away. It was incredible to see what was available for support for lobster fishermen," Alley told the 150 workers, labor leaders and elected officials at the breakfast.

Doug Born, president of the Southern Maine Labor Council, said every Labor Day is "a good excuse to get together with our fellow union brethren and enjoy solidarity." This Labor Day had even more reason to celebrate because of the new lobstermen's union, he said.

"In this day and age, it's highly unusual (to see a new union), especially with such a historically independent group," he said. "It's a real treat that we have a new union in Maine. The collective voice is a stronger voice. It's given voice to workers who literally had no voice. They now have the ability to speak out and be heard."

Alley said between 500 and 600 lobster fishermen have joined the new union, with more expressing interest. They held their first meeting last month in Vinalhaven, about seven months after Alley first heard of the idea of organizing. The meeting included lobstermen from Machiasport, Jonesport, Stonington, Boothbay, Vinalhaven and other fishing communities.

In 2012, there were 4,288 active commercial lobster harvesters in Maine, according to the state Department of Marine Resources.

When Alley was first approached by a fellow lobsterman about forming a union, "I thought he'd lost his mind," he said. But with a glut last year that drove prices down and increased pressure from federal and state regulations, Alley said he recognized the value in lobstermen teaming up to protect their livelihood.

"This is how we're going to take back the industry that's been taken from us," he said to thunderous applause from fellow union members at the breakfast.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who also is running for governor, said he is happy to see the collaborative effort that went into forming the Maine Lobstermen's Union. The collective voice of the union will allow lobstermen to fight in Augusta for issues that are important to them, he said.

Michaud, who received several standing ovations, said Maine has a strong tradition of dedicated workers who help each other through difficult times.

"Unions are not just fighting for members, but for working people and businesses," Michaud said.

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said that while he has never been a union member, he understands "the importance of allowing people to organize and fight for what's important to them."

Also at the breakfast, a "Working Class Hero" award was presented to Bill Murphy, who has worked in the field of labor education since joining the University of Maine's Bureau of Labor Education in 1974. In addition to his work with the bureau, he has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books and papers on labor-related topics.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

 

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