Workers’ rights honored, PRO Act endorsed for International Workers’ Day / by Joe Charpentier

Benjamin Ostergaard of Cumberland participates Sunday during the Communist Party USA of Maine International Workers’ Day rally at Kennedy Park in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Originally published in the Lewiston Sun Journal on April 30, 2023

The Maine chapters of the Communist Party USA and the Party for Socialism and Liberation honor workers’ rights for International Workers’ Day, at Kennedy Park in Lewiston.

LEWISTON — Labor rights supporters gathered Sunday at Kennedy Park in Lewiston to celebrate the International Workers’ Day, which is Monday.

The Communist Party USA of Maine and the Party for Socialism and Liberation co-sponsored the event that championed workers’ rights and highlighted the Protect the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which speakers said would strengthen those rights.

The PRO Act is a bill in Congress aimed at amending the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. It would allow unions to participate in secondary strikes (strikes in support of other unions); protect employees in unionizing efforts; supersede right-to-work laws; ban captive audience meetings (mandatory meetings deterring union activity); and would give rights to contract and freelance employees.

Versions of the bill in 2021 and 2022 passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, but failed in the U.S. Senate.

Michaela Flint, a former employee at the Portland Museum of Art, helped establish a union in 2020 for PMA employees. Although contract negotiations were brief, Flint said employees endured union-busting efforts, including holding union elections on-site during the COVID-19 pandemic, when most employees had to work from home.

“If we were protected by the PRO Act, the Portland Museum of Art would have violated several practices,” Flint said. “I support the PRO Act because it expands various labor protections for employees’ right to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.”

Lorri Nandrea of Mexico speaks Sunday during the Communist Party USA of Maine International Workers’ Day rally at Kennedy Park in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Daniel Carson and Lorri Nandrea of the Communist Party USA of Maine spoke to the importance of organizing and the benefits the PRO Act would bring for laborers.

Nandrea said the current free market enterprise system is not working because workers are almost entirely at the mercy of employers who reap the benefits for their work.

“As individuals, workers are terribly vulnerable, but when we unite, we have enormous power,” Nandrea said. “We can shut the profit-making machinery down and they don’t make a dime unless we move.”

Nandrea said workers gain the leverage they need through unions for “fair compensation and benefits, safe and sane working conditions and the basic respect and dignity that every worker deserves.”

Carson praised the workers at the former Augusta Chipotle Mexican Grill for their efforts to unionize and for their legal battle when the national chain closed the location. He also invoked the 2021 nurses’ strike at Maine Medical Center in Portland, which led to the formulation of the state’s largest union, the Maine State Nurses Association. Nurses voted by a 3-1 margin to support the union, and after the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation tried to convince the union to decertify, the nurses voted by an even larger margin to recertify last August, Carson said.

“Do you know what nurses are going to do now with their power? They’re going to advocate for all of us,” Carson said. “They’re fighting for us. We’ve got to fight for them.

“The community has a stake in this, and when you have a stake, you have a role and that role is to show up. And you’ve got to keep showing up to change the narrative.”

Joe Charpentier came to the Sun Journal in 2022 to cover crime and chaos. His previous experience was in a variety of rural Midcoast beats which included government, education, sports, economics and analysis, crime, and environment. He loves surprising his editors with spontaneous enterprising stories and prides himself on mastering the ability to slip the odd Oxford comma by the copy editors. When not on the beat, Joe enjoys spending time with family, writing fiction and woodworking.