Maine Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) has ordered the removal of a 36-foot mural depicting Maine’s labor history from the lobby of the state’s Department of Labor offices, claiming they received “some complaints” from business owners. The Governor has also directed that eight conference rooms named after labor leaders — including Cesar Chavez — be renamed “after mountains, counties or something.”
The directive comes amidst rising tensions between the LePage Administration and organized labor over the governor’s support for a right-to-work bill and efforts to roll back the state’s child labor laws.
While the state’s AFL-CIO called the removal “mean-spirited”, a spokesman for the governor has said that the removal was not meant to “antagonize” labor, but rather to correct the office’s “one-sided decor.” In an e-mail to Labor Department employees, acting Chief Laura Boyett sought to explain the decision:
We have received feedback that the administration building is not perceived as equally receptive to both businesses and workers — primarily because of the nature of the mural in the lobby and the names of our conference rooms. Whether or not the perception is valid is not really at issue and therefore, not open to debate. If either of our two constituencies perceives that they are not welcome in our administration building and this translates to a belief that their needs will not be heard or met by this department, then it presents a barrier to achieving our mission.
The mural was funded by a $600,000 $60,000 grant from the federal government and includes depictions of Rosie the Riveter at Bath Iron works, a 1937 shoe worker’s strike, and a 1986 paper mill strike. “There was never any intention to be pro-labor or anti-labor,” the mural’s artist, Judy Taylor, told the Sun-Journal. “It was a pure depiction of the facts.”
Meanwhile, Chavez, FDR Labor Secretary Frances Perkins — the nation’s first female cabinet secretary — and William Looney, a 19th-century lawmaker who sponsored a 10-hour workday law, would all have their names removed under the order.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the price of the mural — it has been corrected. There are also conflicting reports about the source of the funds, with the Sun Journal reporting a federal grant and MPBN reporting a private donation.