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UMaine Today Magazine


William Murphy
William Murphy

Title: Director of the Bureau of Labor Education
Research focus: Occupational health and safety, leadership development, employment law, collective bargaining and contract maintenance
Years with UMaine: 32
Milestones: Author or coauthor of 16 publications on employment law, occupational health and safety, and labor relations. This is the Bureau of Labor Education's 40th anniversary.

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Recognizing Labor

Q: How do you characterize the state of the U.S. labor market and labor movement?

A: In recent years, there have been tremendous changes in the United States labor market and the labor movement. These include major transformations in the U.S. and world economies; new innovations in the workplace and on the worksite; intense international competition among nations, employers and organizations; significant evolution in U.S. political and legal environments; and dramatic change in labor relations, such as major organizational upheaval within the labor movement itself. A remarkable aspect of organized labor in the U.S. is its continued ability and potential to adapt to these changes.

Q: What's important for the public to know about Maine labor?

A: Maine labor has a diverse and unique history. In addition, labor continues to play an influential role in the state's economy, particularly in its major employment sectors involving shipbuilding and repair, pulp and papermaking, construction, government, healthcare and education on all levels. Of equal importance, Maine's labor organizations carry out their legal rights and responsibilities by representing members in the workplace concerning wages, hours and working conditions.

Q: What's one of the biggest misconceptions about American labor organizations?

A: One of the biggest misconceptions about U.S. labor organizations is that they are autocratic, undemocratic institutions run by "union bosses." Overall, if one studies the history, functions and activities of labor unions and the labor movement, this is largely incorrect. Like any other large institution, there is no denying that there have been, and still are, some autocratic leaders within the labor movement. However, the vast majority of unions on the local, state and national levels are run openly and democratically. This not only is because union members have a right to demand and expect this; the law also requires it. Specifically, the law requires all unions to be run democratically, for members to have a voice in running the union, and for the periodic election of union officers to be done through secret ballot. Another positive development for union democracy involves the significant number of women, and men of color who are joining unions.

Q: What should people keep in mind on Labor Day?

A: Labor Day is a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of workers and their organizations. In particular, it's important to remember the significant role of labor unions in this nation's political process and in the formation of public policy. For example, in the area of employment law, organized labor has played a vital and strategic role in the enactment of legislation involving wage/hour protections and improvements; family and medical leave rights; occupational health and safety; human rights, equal opportunity and protections against employment discrimination; collective bargaining and the right to organize; whistleblower protections; workers' compensation; and unemployment insurance. Passage of laws in these areas benefit both organized and unorganized employees. In addition, by raising the standard of living for those working in the U.S., these statutes have served to improve the economy and quality of life in the nation.


UMaine Today Magazine
Department of University Relations
5761 Howard A. Keyo Public Affairs Building
Phone: (207) 581-3744 | Fax: (207) 581-3776

The University of Maine
, Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System