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In Maine, Republican lawmakers go after unions, labor

As battles between Republican state governments and unions continue to rage in Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado and elsewhere, another state has entered the fray. Maine was among the states that saw seismic change in its government following the 2010 elections. The governor’s office and both houses of the legislature changed hands following massive Republican gains in November. With total control of the legislative and executive branches of government, Maine Republicans have wasted no time attacking labor since taking office in January.

The latest story coming from the state is that newly elected Republican Governor Paul LePage has ordered the removal of a mural in the state Department of Labor building that portrays the history of the labor movement in Maine. The mural, by local artist Judy Taylor (the complete image of which can be found below), begins with a cobbler training an apprentice, then depicts growing child labor and deplorable conditions for women working in factories, before depicting votes, strikes and demonstrations that earned rights for Maine laborers. It ends with a panel of an old-fashioned worker handing a hammer to the next generation — ostensibly inoffensive stuff, advocating workers’ rights and celebrating skilled labor.

Not so, according to Gov. LePage. LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt told local paper the Lewiston Sun Journal that the mural was a piece of “one-sided décor” that “some business owners” had complained about.

“The message from state agencies needs to be balanced,” said Demeritt.

LePage also intends to rename conference rooms at the Department of Labor, which are currently named after labor figures like New Deal labor secretary Frances Perkins and protest leader César Chávez. The state will hold a contest to rename the rooms; Demeritt suggests naming them “after mountains, counties or something.”

The news comes on the heels of several new Maine bills seeking to do away with labor protections in the state. A bill that has the support of Maine restaurant and hotel owners would raise limits on working hours during the Maine school year for 16- and 17-year-olds. It would increase the weekly work hour limit for minors from 20 to 32 hours; the daily limit from 4 to 6 hours; and the time at which minors’ workday must end from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Business owners say that Maine is unfairly restrictive when it comes to working minors, but educators and Maine Democrats have said that such a policy could help big business at the expense of education. The bill is due for a discussion on the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday.

Meanwhile, two bills aimed at weakening unions are currently in the House Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development. One would make membership in public unions voluntary but preserve the unions’ representation of public workers in a given industry. The other would block the enforcement of membership dues by all unions in the state. Both bills could cripple public and private unions in Maine by enabling non-members and non-paying members to use their services without contributing to them. There are no hearings scheduled imminently for the bills.

Below is the 11-panel mural by artist Judy Taylor that is responsible for the latest battle in the war against labor in Maine. Click to view full-size.

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/mural-300x60.jpgImage courtesy of Judy Taylor. Photo by Imbrogno Photography.

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