DETROIT (WWJ) – It’s Labor Day — the last official holiday of the summer. But for thousands of working men and women, it’s much more than just a day off.
More than 15,000 rank and file on Monday took part in the Detroit Labor Day parade.
Karla Swift, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, says this year’s parade has special significance: it’s the first parade since Michigan became a right-to-work state.
“What is plaguing us and plaguing working families is the fact that the productivity of workers has improved, and that’s really
what has powered our region’s growth, but wage growth has not kept pace with the productivity of working families,” Swift told WWJ Newsradio 950′s Jayne Bower.
Swift says it’s too early to tell whether union members are using right-to-work to opt out of paying dues.
“And it’s too early to tell how badly the average working person in our state is gonna be impacted by right-to-work because we know that that has been the experience in other states.”
Swift believes right-to-work will eventually be repealed in Michigan.
“We believe that it’s a law that should have never been passed in the first place, obviously, and that it will not stand and it eventually … it will get turned around one way or another.”
Swift says last week’s massive nationwide low wage worker strike illustrates the need for wages that keep pace with productivity and the cost of living.
WWJ’s Ron Dewey spoke with union member Jeff Quayle who is optimistic about the future of organized labor.
Quayle, a 20-year UAW member who works at Chryler’s Sterling Assembly, says people are beginning to better understand the value of being represented in the workplace.
“I think, you know, with the right-to-work people are starting to look and say, ‘Hey, ya know, I need the union. I need to be represented by people who are going to look out for me and the best interest of me as well.’”
“I think unions are starting to revitalize themselves,” Quale added, “Kinda taking a step back and saying, ‘Are we doing the right thing? Are we moving in the right direction?’”
This year’s parade theme “The Dream Continues: Jobs, Justice and Peace,”honors the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech, to remind participants that civil rights and economic justice go hand in hand.
Karen Smith, a 17-year employee at the Chrysler Jefferson North plant says the younger generation of workers doesn’t understand what the union does or how it works.
“So, I’m just out trying to get them involved. I asked a few of them to come out, participate, and learn something,” Smith said.
Marchers stepped off at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull and marching toward the UAW-Ford Hall on Jefferson Ave. The parade precedes an afternoon of speeches, picnics and other activities.