Douglas Born, president of the Southern Maine Labor Council, left, and Pious Ali, a Portland city councilor, carry a banner during a march up State Street after a Labor Day breakfast in Portland on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Union workers and supporters gathered in Portland on Labor Day to celebrate the labor movement and highlight calls for universal health care for Americans.

During the annual Southern Maine Labor Council Labor’s Day Breakfast at the Irish Heritage Center, more than 250 stood to cheer Monday as Philippa Adam, who works in the food program at Preble Street, described how she and her co-workers voted 90-10 to form the Preble Street Workers United Union.

Philippa Adam, a worker in the food program at Preble Street, smiles as she is applauded at the end of her speech at the Labor Day breakfast in Portland on Monday. Adam and her co-workers were acknowledged at the breakfast for forming a union earlier this year. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The newly formed union, represented by the Maine State Employees Association-Service Workers International Union Local 1989, is now in bargaining discussions with Preble Street, which serves homeless and low-income Mainers at the organization’s soup kitchens, food pantry and shelters in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor. Adam said early discussions have focused on worker safety.

“We built this union with our bare hands and we are so proud. We finally have a seat at the table and it will not stop there. It has been a banner year for workers’ rights at Preble Street,” Adam said to thunderous applause.

That type of enthusiastic solidarity is typical of the annual event, attended by workers, supporters, local elected officials and labor organizers, and continued when keynote speaker Jose La Luz took the stage.

La Luz, a veteran organizer who led the campaign to achieve collective bargaining rights for public workers in Puerto Rico, gave a rousing speech about universal health care. Since 2017, La Luz has been campaigning for Medicare for All. He called on workers to come together to fight against “coordinated, sustained and escalating assaults” on organized labor and push for universal health care for everyone in the “wealthiest nation in the world.”

“The wonderful thing about this movement is every time we come together we recommit ourselves to this thing you and I call solidarity,” he said. “It’s about the fact that each one of us has to stand up for all the others. If there is an injury to one of us, there is an injury to all.”

Jose La Luz, a veteran labor organizer and educator, discusses universal health care at a Labor Day breakfast in Portland on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was originally scheduled to speak at the breakfast. But organizers later asked him to attend but not speak because a speech by him could have been perceived as an implied endorsement of his candidacy by the Southern Maine Labor Council, said Douglas Born, the group’s president. Sanders’ campaign announced overnight that he would not be appearing at the event.

The last-minute cancellation did not put a damper on the event, which Born said was the council’s best ever.

Laura Fortman, commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor, spoke briefly at the breakfast, discussing the department’s commitment to enforcing labor laws and the need to give support and stability to people who are working longer and harder at multiple temporary jobs.

“The way to change that is through unionizing,” she said.

The Working Class Hero Award was presented to attorney Howard Reben, who for years has represented unions and workers in workers’ compensation and discrimination cases.

After the breakfast, union members marched to Longfellow Square, where Harlan Baker read from “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman while standing at the base of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow statue.


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