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'They vacation while we die': Labor leaders call on officials to protect workers with Labor Day caravan in Portland

A hearse-led procession will go across Portland and will be followed by a press conference, with union leaders calling on officials to protect workers.
Credit: NCM

PORTLAND, Maine — On Labor Day, local union leaders are calling on elected officials at each level of government to “immediately pass COVID-19 relief legislation to protect workers, provide federal aid for state and local governments, boost unemployment benefits, save the US Postal Service and address racial disparities in both the health and economic crisis.”

On Monday morning, the Maine American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, and the Southern Maine Labor Council held a press conference and car caravan across Portland, both to honor those who have died with COVID-19 and to call attention to the need for laborer protection amid the pandemic.

“While our elected officials are on vacations, Maine’s workers are still risking their lives in unsafe working conditions, or struggling to make ends meet with the loss of federal unemployment funding,” event organizer Arlo Hennessey of the Southern Maine Workers Center said in a release. 

“While we wait for federal action, thousands of people are still dying from COVID-19, disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and People of Color," Hennessey said.  "With this action we call for immediate action to address racial injustice and the pandemic’s impact of working class people.”

Organizers say they’re seeking to draw attention to “this outrageous inaction,” by holding the hearse-led procession “for the workers who have needlessly died of COVID-19.”

The procession will make its way across Portland, beginning at the Eastern Promenade, going across Congress Street, and ending at the Western Promenade.

The event began at 10 a.m. with a press conference. 

Speakers included:

  • Cynthia Phinney, President of the Maine AFL-CIO
  • Scott Adams, President of the American Postal Workers Union Local 458
  • Ben Freedman, Portland firefighter & member of IAFF Local 740
  • Carrie Walsh,  a local worker impacted by the COVID-19 crisis
  • Michael Kebebe, policy advocate for the ACLU of Maine.

There will be a moment of silence for those lost to COVID-19 and to police violence at the event.