FORT KENT — In less than six weeks a handful of injured workers in the St. John Valley have signed up more than 125 members in the St. John Valley United Injured Workers, a chapter of the United Injured Workers of Maine.
Collen Nadeau of Eagle Lake, a logger who was injured in 1986 and again in 1987, heads the group organized at a meeting in Fort Kent on Nov. 8. More than 70 injured workers attended the session organized by Nadeau and a few friends.
The workers decided to organize a St. John Valley chapter of the statewide group following a meeting of the group and the AFL-CIO in Caribou. The United Paperworkers International Union was present at the Fort Kent meeting.
Nadeau, who has been out of work since his second accident in 1987, said injured workers’ rights must be protected. He said a major issue at hand now is the statewide job search for injured workers. Nadeau said an insignificant job that is available in southern Maine can allow officials to uproot a man and his family, without recourse.
Nadeau was elected president of the St. John Valley group when they met at Fort Kent. Other officers are Pat Clingan of Madawaska, secretary; Dennis Derosier of St. Agatha, treasurer; and Violet Raymond of Fort Kent, financial secretary.
Nadeau said injured workers at the Fort Kent meeting decided to organize. They will hold their second meeting on Friday, Dec. 13, at Fort Kent High School.
The organizer said the group is a political action group which hopes to provide a network of people to inform people about voting procedures, let people know how representatives vote on issues affecting injured workers and get people to call politicians about injured workers’ rights.
“We want to let people know how politicians vote. We want to get people active, to call politicians and to get members to call politicians when workers compensation issues come up,” said Nadeau.
The group is trying to affiliate with the state organization run by President Ralph Coffman of Old Town.
The group, said Nadeau, intends to put politicians on the spot when it comes to injured workers’ rights. He said they have already asked Sen. Raynold Theriault, D-Fort Kent, to explain his positions at the Dec. 13 meeting. Nadeau said Theriault has cast some votes on compensation issues that are confusing.
Theriault has agreed to attend the meeting to make his views clear.
Nadeau said Theriault is not the politician they are seeking the most answers from. At least one other, whose views on injured workers are not clear, has not answered mail or returned telephone calls. The group plans to press the legislator for answers.
Nadeau said the injured workers would get involved in the election process and get someone elected who was sympathetic to their views.
Looking at St. John Valley area representatives, Nadeau said most are pro-labor and are against such propositions as retroactivity for injured workers. Retroactivity, he said, removes rights won by injured workers in the 1985 reform period.
He said workers who were protected for life because of workplace injuries could be reduced to receiving eight years of protection and they could be made to move elsewhere in Maine to work.
He said some laws do not apply because workers may be protected under previous legislation. He said McKernan wants to remove rights workers won after years of work. He said the governor would like to put all injured workers under the eight-year law and to end previous contracts workers had with insurance companies. “We are amazed he wants to do that,” said Nadeau.
We decided we had to try and do something for ourselves. “We have been quite successful. The response has been really good. People are deciding to get involved,” said Nadeau.
He said the efforts of the group effect labor as a whole. People who are healthy today can get injured at work, he said.