March 24, 2023
Rest in Power, MSEA-SEIU Lead Organizer Sarah Watson
We’re devastated by the death of MSEA-SEIU Lead Organizer Sarah Watson, who at age 48 was taken from her family and all of us on March 20, 2023, after a brief illness.
From her family to her community to her work with us, Sarah demonstrated the resolve, grit and determination of a giant in all of her advocacy.
Sarah came to us in 2014 from Fairpoint Communications, where she helped organize her office coworkers to form a union, and negotiate and ratify their first contract. At Fairpoint, she served the last six years as a steward and the last two as a chief steward. She also worked directly with the Communications Workers of America to help other workers organize their own unions.
In joining our staff, Sarah described her advocacy at Fairpoint Communications as “life changing for me. Going through the entire process of forming a union from card check to contract really has sparked a fire in me. I believe every worker deserves the respect at work that being a union member gives you. I truly want to help Maine workers realize the strength they have in their numbers and empower them to find their own voice as well.”
In her nine years at MSEA, Sarah led our staff in reaching out to newly hired workers throughout our bargaining units, and developed and oversaw our new member orientation programs. She mentored other staff and member organizers. She worked closely with Maine workers who don’t yet have union representation. She helped organize the workers at Preble Street who formed a union with ours and served as second chair for their first contract campaign. She also supported workers on our young workers’ committee. She ran our summer organizing program and coordinated with our international union, SEIU, on our outreach campaigns and helping members access their union benefits.
She also brought her expert skills as a photographer and artist to our union; her photos of our actions and events always had such a poignant quality they’d give us pause. We’re sharing some of her photos with this story.
If that breadth of work weren’t enough, Sarah also completed her bachelor’s degree with a concentration in labor studies at University of Maine at Augusta while working at MSEA.
“Sarah was an incredible, tenacious force, and a true fighter until the end,” MSEA-SEIU Executive Director Alec Maybarduk said. “She loved the union and we all owe her a debt a gratitude for the work she did to organize new units, win fair contracts, and sustain our organization through some of our most difficult times. We are a much stronger union, and labor movement, thanks to her sacrifice and dedication. I know she will be missed terribly by us all.”
Sarah Watson photographed our members and others at many of our union events, from protesting the 2017 State Government Shutdown (top) to joining in activities of the Southern Maine Labor Council (her photo of workers at Preble Street is below).
Beth White, our lead legislative and political member coordinator, worked closely with Sarah over the years.
“Sarah was my first ‘coworker friend’ at MSEA. She took me under her wing, answered all of my silly questions, and was always good for a laugh or to pump me up when I needed it,” Beth said. “I’m so thankful to have known her. None of this feels real and I honestly can’t wrap my head around the fact that she’s gone. I can’t imagine what MSEA, Maine, or our world will be like without her. I’m thankful for everything she taught me. Her memory will live on in every life she touched, including mine. I’ll remember her often, but especially when I see cute videos of golden retrievers, since I always shared those with her.”
Sarah’s lifetime of advocacy for those around her was rooted in her devotion to and love of her family: her surviving husband, Tyler, and daughter Julia, and late daughter, Katie. We find consolation in knowing Sarah is with her beloved Katie once again.
“Don’t ever give up,” Sarah told her hometown newspaper, The Town Line, in 2018 following Katie’s death. “If you run into a wall, get a sledgehammer. If there isn’t a way, if it doesn’t exist, create it. Nurses are your best friends, and nobody has your best interests at heart more than you do. Learn to question. Demand a second opinion. Be your own advocate.”
Rest in Power, Sister Sarah Watson!
According to Sarah’s obituary, a celebration of life will be held at St. Bridget Center, 864 Main St., Vassalboro on Thursday, 3/30/2023 from 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. The family requests that all those able to attend wear a plaid flannel in Sarah’s honor. In lieu of flowers, the Watson family respectfully requests contributions in Sarah’s memory be made to the Ronald McDonald House located at 250 Brackett St., Portland, Maine 04102.