After Maine’s governor removes labor mural, feds demand their money back

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, April 4, 2011 16:04 EDT
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Whoops: The governor of Maine’s decision to remove a pro-labor mural from the state’s Department of Labor may cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, all because he wanted to “send a message.”

Apparently unknown to Maine’s recently elected Republican governor, the mural targeted by his ire was initially paid for by a federal grant — the terms of which he violated by having it removed.

And now, according to the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Labor has officially demanded reimbursement.

The grant, awarded in 2008 to pay for the 37-foot-long mural, fulfilled 63 percent of the $60,000 historical art project.

If the state decides against putting it back up, they’ll be forced to repay 63 percent of the mural’s fair market value, which has likely gone up since it became a centerpiece in Republicans’ battle against workers.

Gov. Paul LePage, elected after playing to the political sympathies of tea party Republicans, also ordered a number of the Department of Labor’s conference room names changed, apparently because they referenced heroes to the labor movement, like Caesar Chavez and Frances Perkins, America’s first female labor secretary.

“I’m trying to send a message to everyone in the state that the state of Maine looks at employees and employers equally, neutrally and on balance,” he reportedly said.

The mural, which depicts key moments in the state’s labor history, is currently in storage.

Maine is also in the midst of a pitched battle over child labor laws. Republican lawmakers in the state are set on rolling back basic labor protections to let employers hire underage youths to work an unlimited number of hours in more dangerous environments, and for significantly lower wages than adults.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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