As a resident of Auburn and a wife and mother to Franco-American Lewiston natives, I hold a special place in my heart for people from this area. We all share a certain loyalty towards our neighbors; a pride when we see stories about a Lewiston/Auburn boy or girl who has done well!
Certainly our community has been the hometown of many success stories. Two stories that resonate for me are Eric Agren and Patrick Dempsey. Eric Agren, a native of Lewiston, has been credited with the revival of downtown Lewiston with the opening of two restaurants, Fuel and Marchè. Although not a native of Lewiston per se, actor, Patrick Dempsey, attended St. Dom’s High School. Through the Dempsey Challenge, we all know how his efforts have benefited Lewiston/Auburn residents. While Dempsey and Agren have done so much to help support the residents of Lewiston/Auburn, fellow Lewiston native, Governor Paul LePage, has done just the opposite.
Since LePage took office, his focus seems to be almost entirely on attacking Maine workers. Here are just a few of the actions he has taken against our state’s workers:
1) We can start with the well-publicized Labor Mural controversy that began with Lepage’s abrupt removal (and subsequent hiding) of a mural depicting Maine’s workers through the ages from the office of the Department of Labor. His excuse? It was too one-sided and not in keeping with the “department’s pro-business goals.” This is the department of labor, by the way, whose purpose is to support Maine workers.
2) Demonstrating his disdain for injured workers, he passed a bill to severely limit and weaken our state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Workers who get hurt on the job – even if it’s the fault of their employer – have no ability to sue their employer for negligence. Their exclusive remedy is to seek benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Our Governor, however, agreed to severely strip the Act of some of its benefits despite the fact that insurance companies were reporting profits. Now, a worker who suffers a serious and permanent injury at work will only receive benefits for limited period of time – even if his or her injuries are so severe he or she can no longer work. And, even if his or her employer was at fault.
3) He constantly attacks Maine’s state employees. Let’s set aside the fact that he is a state employee who hired his own daughter to a state entry-level position that paid $41,000 with another $15,000 in benefits and an additional $10,000 housing stipend (even though she lived in the Blaine House with him). He has sustained a constant attack on state workers throughout his term. He has called state workers corrupt. He has said they lack integrity. He blamed regulation fees on state workers being too lazy to work. Is this his daughter he’s talking about – or she the exception to the rule?
4) He bullied the state’s unemployment appeals hearings officers by forcing them into a meeting he had no right to call where he accused them of deciding too many times in favor of the workers. Following this meeting, the Department of Labor, and LePage’s own Blue Ribbon commission investigated these claims and found there was no bias towards workers when it came to the unemployment hearings.
5) He vetoed a bill that would have increased Maine’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016. Full time workers who currently earn Maine’s $7.50 an hour minimum wage make a paltry $15,600 a year working 40 hours a week.
6) He has fought organized labor every way possible. His latest attempt was by trying to create “Open for Business Zones” which would have offered substantial tax and energy credits to large companies for locating in these zones. These businesses would also be exempt from collective bargaining agreements that are used to protect workers. This was the third time LePage had tried to get so-called “right to work” (for less) policies in our state.
So, while I am incredibly proud of my Lewiston/Auburn community and those who have successfully gone on to support our neighbors through their great achievements, I cannot support a man like Paul LePage for governor. After dealing with the aftermath of his policies over the last four years, I don’t see how anyone in Maine, let alone any worker, could possibly support an individual who clearly has no respect or interest in serving the working people of Maine.
About the author: Karen Bilodeau is an attorney and partner at the workers’ rights law firm, McTeague Higbee. She can be reached at 207-725-5581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She lives in Auburn.