Three panels of the 11-panel mural Gov. LePage has ordered removed from the Department of Labor.
Judy Taylor spent a full year planning the 36-foot-long mural that currently hangs in the lobby at the Department of Labor. "It's an art project based on the historical facts of the history of Maine labor, so there was no bias intended," she says.
The 11-panels depict scenes from Maine's labor history: Rosie the Riveter, child laborers, textile and woods workers and two strikes--one at a Lewiston shoe factory in 1937 and the other at the International Paper Mill in Jay in 1986.
The $60,000 work was commissioned by the DOL, and primarily financed through federal funds with some private donations, according to former Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman. The mural was in 2008. "I have never had a negative response to it from any aspect of business, labor--all class of people," Taylor says.
But Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for Gov. LePage, says several unnamed people have come into both the Department of Labor and the governor's office and complained that they felt the mural is inappropriate for the setting--that it takes the union side in the ongoing struggle between management and labor.
"So we need to convey the image that we are receptive to both," Bennett says. "And the Department of Labor cannot appear to be on one side or the other." And Bennett says that is why the governor's office is looking to find another public venue for the mural.
Bennett says the DOL is also launching a contest to rename eight conference rooms that are currently named after icons, activists and historical figures in the labor movement--people such as farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Frances Perkins, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor who helped establish Social Security and helped pass laws against child labor.
Barbara Burt is the executive director of the Francis Perkins Center in Newcastle. "It's just unthinkable to me that anyone would consider her an enemy of any part of American life, including business," she says. "I mean, she was not anti-business, she knew that labor and business had a symbiotic relationship."
Burt says the decision to remove the mural and rename the conference rooms seems more like a thumb in the eye to Maine's working people. And with a proposed budget that asks state workers to pay more for their pensions, raises the retirement age for some state workers and teachers and caps their cost of living increases, Gov. LePage has already agitated the work force and incensed union activists with goals to weaken collective bargaining rights and relax a long-held policy on child labor.
Matt Schlobohm of the AFL-CIO says removing the mural is just the latest salvo in an ongoing attack by the governor. "The governor seems far more interested in picking fights with working families than he does in solving the problems that working people face, that the state of Maine faces, and in creating the jobs that we desperately need."
And Ben Grant of the Maine Democratic Party says he thinks voters can also see the irony. "It's just completely ironic to me to drive by the Maine Republican headquarters where there's a big sign out front that says: 'Working people vote Republican.' Then you hear about all this."
Grant says the governor might be able to remove the mural but he can't erase Maine's labor history. Meanwhile, suggestions for new names for the Labor Department's conference rooms are being taken until April 5th. Andrienne Bennett says the goal is to find more neutral types of names, such as Maine mountains or counties.