Hundreds Celebrate Workers, Unions at Labor Picnic

Posted at: 09/02/2013 6:39 PM
Updated at: 09/02/2013 10:46 PM

Some of spent the weekend at home, enjoying the extra day off of work. But at Duluth's Bayfront Festival Park, hundreds of people celebrated Labor Day at the Labor Picnic, now 122 years old, according to union leaders.

Dan O'Neill, the president of the AFL-CIO Duluth Central Labor Body, said there are about 17,000 households with workers represented by unions in the region. He said the picnic is about "celebrating the workers in this country and the fight for decent wages and benefits."

A lot of that is possible because of the unions, O'Neill said. "Workers and job sites need representation. When they need representation they form unions. With a union they have better bargaining strength and they have people that negotiate for them decent wages and benefits."

But amid the slew of political signs along the sidewalks, people asking for signatures on petitions, and a whole lot of picnic food, we found Gary Painter, who said he doesn't believe in unions anymore.

"I drove a concrete truck in Chicago for 8 1/2 years," Painter told us. "Lost my house, lost my job."

That's when Painter moved to Duluth. "The last five years I was there I got a cut in pay and a cut in medical insurance."

Painter said a union represented him, and didn't fight for him. The experience left him with a bad taste in his mouth. "I don't believe in the unions," he said.

But every year, for the last several years, Painter has come to the picnic. He said he likes the food and the beer.

The picnic is drew in a handful of candidates who shook hands with people attending. Candidates for school board and city council only have a few days left to win votes before next week's primary which happens on Tuesday, September 10.