"Today the American Worker is Under Siege"

By:  Cynthia Dill
Date: Sept. 3, 2012
Location: Portland, ME

Cynthia Dill, Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, attended two Labor Day events in Maine today and released the following statement. Her statement follows:

Labor Day is a national holiday to celebrate the social and economic achievements of the American worker. It is designed to recognize how individual workers have built this great nation through hard work, sacrifice and ingenuity.

There is no Corporate Day in America. Our forebearers knew where to focus this national observance -- on the American workers, on the people who turn effort into substance, on the men and women whose sweat, labor and creativity have built and maintained the most powerful economy in the world.

My Italian grandmother worked at Full Flex Rubber Corporation for more than 40 years on the 3rd shift. A highlight of her life was meeting Ted Kennedy and Cesar Chavez when she was a member of the executive board for the United Rubber Workers Union.

She owned a tiny, two-bedroom home with a garden and access to the Highlands Beach in Bristol, Rhode Island. The kitchen floor under the counter where I played was cool, clean and safe. Always sauce was cooking, and meatballs and pasta needed testing. Everywhere were bowls of nuts, tangerines and candy. A replica of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper was on the wall. The union enabled her modest success, and some of my fondest childhood memories.

When my grandmother sold her house, she moved in to the same brick building that had been Full Flex Rubber Corporation, now an elder-care facility.

People give and sacrifice. Through it all, with perseverance and some luck, they can create the American Dream.

But I wonder if the American Dream today is moving beyond the reach of the everyday American worker. Today, the foundation of the American Dream is under attack. And I worry about what that means for the future of our nation, our middle class, our work ethic, our work life and our labor movements.

Like my grandmother, I am a product of that American Dream. Now, in just a few short decades, we see that narrative may truly be a dreamer's fantasy, something out of reach for those not born millionaires, not born privileged, not born the correct race, gender, religion or orientation.

Today the American worker is under siege.

We have the national Republican Party working hard to diminish women's rights.

We have the national Republican Party working hard to diminish workers' rights.

We have the national Republican Party working hard to protect the financial portfolios of America's wealthiest 1 percent over the family concerns of America's 99 percent.

Yes, it has all changed in just a few years. When Wall Street crashed the economy to the ground, government rushed in with tourniquets and bandages. Corporate America was rescued, along with its "too big to fail" capitalistic culture, but the bail-outs had conditions attached. Stricter regulations and regulatory reform, while not perfect, were negotiated to protect the public interest.

Now unions and public pensions are being blamed for budget shortfalls in many states, including Maine.
Something - someone - has to be blamed for the sea of red ink.

It cannot be the banksters who put the economy into a death spiral; no, that would hurt the national Republican Party's true constituency.

So the cynical idea was born to demonize the American worker, and to make organized labor public enemy No. 1 of the national Republican Party.

Big business and organized labor are polar forces that exist in relation to each other and that need each other. The middle class -- the everyday American family - is dependent on the balance of power between corporations and unions. Because so much is at stake in that social calculus, the United States government must protect the public interest by not favoring one over the other.

My life benefited from this delicate balance; I'm certain yours did as well. Wealth created by businesses helped pay for an education that led to a life fighting for the civil rights of employees - many of them union members. Unions allowed my grandmother, a woman with meager means in the 1950s and 1960s, to enjoy the bounty of a middle-class life.

We can see union contributions everywhere in our society. Their actions helped create and sustain America's middle class. Thanks to unions, wages and working conditions improved. Women were invited into the marketplace and were empowered to fight for voting and civil rights laws. Children were protected from exploitation.
For their part, businesses gather the capital to create jobs and to support families, and communities. The never-ending hunt for more market share, for a heftier bottom line, can lead to exploitation, however, if left unchecked. Powerful financial interests influence government and get advantages. Greed motivates relentless quests for tax breaks, loopholes and preferential treatment. Hunger for "profit at all cost" blinds top executives to the trials and tribulations of employees. Faces become numbers. We have seen this happen.

Even so, the role of government in tending to the balance between business and labor today is the question. Unions may not be perfect, but neither are giant corporations. Such is the human condition. But unions, we have learned through our history -- and we are learning anew today -- are a necessary force in creating the American Dream.

When a U.S. Supreme Court decision holds that a corporation has the rights of an individual and can flood our presidential elections with millions of dollars in untethered campaign contributions - all under the banner of "free speech" - we realize we need unions more than ever.

When a pension shortfall is created in large part by corporate malfeasance and dereliction of duty by previous lawmakers, we realize we need unions more than ever.

When the 2012 presidential race is actually framed as a contest between the upper 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans and the 99 percent of the rest of us, we realize we need unions more than ever.

America's union history is not finished. It is still being written. And we need union activism and work today to right the ship of state, to stop financial greed from overtaking our principles of a Democratic society and to hold elected officials -- and top corporate officials -- responsible for their actions.

I hold my two opponents in the race for U.S. Senate accountable for their actions.

As governor of Maine, Angus King vetoed many worker protection bills that I, as a legislator, have wholeheartedly supported. As a lawmaker, Charlie Summers failed to back these very same worker protection bills.
Summers and King are on the same page when it comes to protecting the rights of workers in Maine. In sum, don't count on them for protections or help. You won't get any. As the next U.S. Senator from Maine, I will fight to preserve workers' rights, not diminish them.

Here is a partial list of the worker protection bills Gov. King vetoed for Maine people:

A law to prohibit an employer from hiring replacement workers during a strike

A law to prohibit the employment of professional strikebreakers

A law to raise the minimum wage

A law to limit mandatory overtime

A law to forbid hiring of replacement workers during a strike

A law to amend the Maine Workers' Compensation Act of 1992 regarding compensation for amputation of a body part

A law to provide increases in the cost of living for injured workers

A law to expand Maine's Family and Medical Leave Law

A law to increase the maximum benefit levels provided to injured workers

A law to provide equal treatment for state employees under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act

A law to ban the permanent replacement of workers in a labor dispute

The sweep of these vetoes is breathtaking. And, I would say, heartbreaking. Imagine the kind of place Maine would be today if these legislative acts had become law.

We remain locked in this fight over fairness - fair wages, fair treatment, a fair shot at the future. But it is a fight that we can win, together, with President Obama and the national Democratic Party.

Look around. Like most of you, I know not a single American family left unscathed by the financial meltdown that occurred largely because of unchecked, insatiable corporate greed. We have all been hurt financially.

Somehow, though, the upper 1 percent of the Super Wealthy remained on top and now we are all left to pick up the pieces -- with homes that have less value, with retirement funds that have shrunk, with personal debt that has climbed, with skyrocketing college tuition costs for our children, with good American jobs being shipped overseas, with outsourcing the latest corporate trend as a way to avoid paying health care benefits and good wages to American workers.

Today, as we celebrate Labor Day, let's renew our commitment to the participation of labor unions. Let's renew our concern for the American worker, who faces daunting obstacles in the quest to earn a living for one's family and to educate one's children.

Let's renew our vision of the American Dream by remembering how we got here in the first place: Together. United. Standing as one.

Thank you.