BREWER – Solidarity was the theme of a Fourth of July bash Wednesday night at the Union Hall in Brewer, home of the Greater Bangor Area Central Labor Council, which consists of members of 22 area labor unions and a retiree group.
Part rally and part benefit, the event was organized to support jobs with fair pay and decent benefits, issues that are critical to the well-being of Maine workers and their families. It also was organized to show opposition to state and federal economic incentives that assist corporations without demanding fair treatment of workers.
The event began with a benefit baked bean supper, continued with live music and a long line of speakers, and ended with a view of the fireworks watched from a park on the nearby waterfront.
Council President Jack McKay likened Wednesday’s show of solidarity to the ice storm, when people throughout the state pulled together in a way that hadn’t been seen in years.
“It was about people helping people who were in a bad way through no fault of their own,” he said.
It was in that spirit that the council, which McKay said is in the process of rejuvenating itself after eight years of stagnation, split the more than $1,000 in proceeds from its benefit with displaced workers from the Passadumkeag Stud Mill and the Costigan Stud Mill.
When International Paper closed the mills in April, more than 260 people found themselves out of work. In March, IP turned down a $3.49 million buyout offer made by employees trying to preserve their jobs. The company also rejected Costigan millworkers’ request to reconsider the closure of lumber operations there.
McKay said that 263 workers, some of whom had dedicated most of their careers to helping build up the two IP mills, were suddenly left out in the cold. Of those, 67 percent have not yet found new jobs. Many of those who did find work did so because they left the communities in which their families had lived for generations.
Among those who attended the event were former IP stud mill workers Lisa Bird and Pat McCoy, now a peer support worker trying to help those affected rebuild their lives.
“Given what’s happened in the last three months, this means a lot to me personally,” McCoy said of the benefit. He said that while most of those who lost their jobs this spring were not able to attend, he knew that they appreciated the gesture.
Bird said it was crucial that workers stick together, especially in these uncertain times.
“We all know that an injury to one truly is an injury to all,” she said.