DETROIT (WWJ) – A celebration of organized labor kicked off Monday morning with a march down Michigan Avenue. Union members in identifying t-shirts of every color gathered at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull for the city’s annual Labor Day Parade.

They’re not only celebrating the accomplishments of organized labor, but also working to set the record straight about what they mean to labor in general.

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Trenton resident Dawn McQuade, of Plumbers Local 98 said, contrary to popular belief, union members have not been living high on the hog at the expense of others.

(WWJ Photo/Ron Dewey)

“You know, I was laid off for two years. We’re good workers, but if there’s no construction then we don’t work,”  she told WWJ Newsradio 950’s Ron Dewey.  “My house (was built in) 1890. It’s a small house. We don’t live in elaborate mansions or drive Mercedes. My car’s 12 years old.”

McQuade said they’ve felt the pain of the economy with everyone else.

“Us in the building trades, we’ve gone backwards on our collective bargain agreements because they’re not as much work. Our sister local right now, Pipefitters 636, they’re on a strike because … the contractors, they just can’t come to an agreement.”

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(WWJ Photo/Ron Dewey)

Kelly Davis of UAW Local 600, representing a thousand workers from the Dearborn engine plant, said they’re in a better place than they were only a few years ago when the domestic auto industry was on the ropes.

“We’re getting better. I think with the economy going up it’s helping us that even during hard times we stand together, stand and struggle. So I think it’s in a positive fashion where we’re goin’ now

Dave Figurski walked away from his circulation job at the Detroit News in the aftermath of the 1995 newspaper strike, went back to school to be a teacher. Now at a Warren elementary school, the cutbacks in education have taken him from one labor dispute to another.

“We used to have reading specialists, we had councilors. Because of Governor Snyder’s cuts all the support staff is the first to be eliminated, because the last thing you can eliminate is the classroom teachers,” said Figurski.

“So now we’re to the point where the classroom teachers are being eliminated. My class size is getting bigger and bigger. It’s just not good for good education,” he said.

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Figurski wants people to know unionized teachers are not in it for the salaries and benefits, but for children to get a good public education.