WATERVILLE — The first Monday in September is a day used to recognize the American labor movement and celebrate American workers. That was on full display Sunday afternoon, as the region’s labor council held its annual Labor Day picnic at Head of Falls.

The event’s keynote speaker, Sara Nelson, is the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants and will be visiting the state’s other labor councils Monday.

The Central Maine Labor Council held its celebration Sunday, and Nelson visited it first. She said she got involved with unions when she was first starting out as a flight attendant.

Nelson said she was stationed in Boston, living in an apartment with seven other women. Some of her flight attendant friends were already starting to get their first paychecks, but Nelson’s didn’t come.

Nelson said she started flying reserve assignment flights, just so she could have a free meal. Soon she was completely out of money, with no way to pay for food, but still she was told to wait for her check. Eventually, she was advised was to call her union. She called, and the next day, her first check came.

“I learned everything I needed to know about my union in that moment,” she said.

Nelson said unions and the labor movement are more important now than ever, especially in the wake of the devastation in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, since it is the labor movement preparing to rebuild Houston, she said.

“Together, we are going to make sure Houston rebuilds,” she said.

The Maine AFL-CIO – a federation of 160 local unions representing 42,000 workers and their labor councils — has established a Hurricane Harvey relief fund.

Nelson’s union is made up of 50,000 flight attendants, including 60 from Maine.

Josh Hartford, president of the Central Maine Labor Council, said this was the second time Waterville had played host to the event. In years’ past, it was held in Augusta’s Capital Park, but he said Waterville has a lot of union members, so the move made sense.

He said the event was a way for union members to come together and celebrate Labor Day and have a free lunch. He said over 20 local unions were represented in the Central Maine Labor Council, which is made up of four counties and constitutes about 7,000 members

Cynthia Phinney, Maine AFL-CIO president, said advancing the rights of workers allows for an economy with working people at the center of it.

“Today is all about the workers and the working people,” she said.