GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The fifth annual Labor Fest drew crowds to Ah Nab Ah Wan Park Monday. The consistent message from representatives at the event was unity.
Labor Fest is traditionally a big union event, and this year was no different. But that didn’t mean that only union members showed up to listen to the live music and participate in the family fun.
“I wanted to share with my children what it is to be part of America and to celebrate the firefighters, the unions and the different things that are down here,” said James Briggs. Briggs and his wife brought their four children to the Labor Day event. He’s not a member of a union, he owns his own small business, but said he saw Labor Fest as a teachable moment.
“People need to stick together and we don’t just live in a vacuum we’re not just by ourselves,” said Briggs.
This is the second Labor Day and fest since Michigan became a right to work state. Jim Chase, from Teamsters Local 406 told 24 Hour News 8 that makes events like Labor Fest that much more important.
“Right to work is in fact going after the unions to try to dismantle them, so to speak, so this ends up being more important so we can get closer to the working public,” said Chase.
Teamsters, the United Auto Workers and the Grand Rapids Education Association were among those with tables at the event, who passed out t-shirts and pamphlets.
“We’re part of the labor community,” said Grand Rapids Education Association president Paul Helder. “Ultimately with everything that’s going on, I think going forward it’s going to be important for regular people of all kinds to start pulling together. We don’t have the ability to lobby individually.” Helder emphasized how interconnected people are — using his members as an example.
He admitted that the salaries of the members of the GREA won’t be directly affected by something like a raise in the state minimum wage, but that their jobs may be.
“We serve a lot of families who, quite frankly, have a really hard time making ends meet,” said Helder. “And if that becomes a little easier for them, and if they’re working two jobs instead of three, then they can spend some more time with their kids. We can get the support we need in the classroom, [and] that’s better for everybody.”
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