STATEMENT OF BARBARA BURT, EXECUTIVE DIRCTOR OF THE FRANCES PERKINS CENTER OF NEWCASTLE
March 25, 2011
The Frances Perkins Center deplores the edict handed down by Maine’s governor to strip the Department of Labor of its mural depicting Maine workers through the centuries and to rename conference rooms that currently honor heroes of Maine’s workforce. I am sorry to miss this occasion to stand with artists, union members, and outraged members of the public. Ironically, at this very moment, many of the Frances Perkins Center’s board members and I, along with thousands of people from all around the country, are participating in the commemoration of the Triangle Factory Fire in Manhattan’s Washington Square. One-hundred-forty-six factory workers lost their lives in that fire one hundred years ago today.
Frances Perkins witnessed that tragedy and was galvanized by the experience, becoming a lifelong advocate for working people. As the first woman Cabinet member and the country’s longest serving secretary of labor, she is largely responsible for Social Security, the minimum wage, many workplace safety laws, and unemployment insurance.
Maine can be proud to claim Frances Perkins as one of our own. Artist Judy Taylor included a portrait of her in one of the mural’s panels, and a conference room is titled the Perkins Room. Although she wasn’t born in Maine, Frances spent her summers at her grandparents’ home in Newcastle and eventually came to own the homestead, known as the Brick House, which has been in the Perkins family since the 1750s.
It is shocking that Maine’s governor would want to divorce himself from a leader so significant in the history of our country and so closely allied with Maine. His action is completely misguided. Frances Perkins was no enemy of business. Her concern was that the relationship between employer and employee be fair and balanced, that the need for profit not outweigh the need for safety and reasonable wages.
The workers of Maine built this state just as surely as did their employers. And, as Frances Perkins recognized, they often paid for that work with their lives or disability; they certainly didn’t get rich. We strongly urge the governor to honor their contributions by allowing the mural to remain in its current location at the Department of Labor.