Labor Gathering Draws Crowds Counting On Brighter Future For Unions

By Jeff Neumeyer

September 3, 2012 Updated Sep 3, 2012 at 5:48 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) - Trying to win back lost ground.

Union pride runs deep at Fort Wayne's annual Labor Day Picnic downtown.

This Labor Day, organized labor and its supporters are clinging to the hope of better days ahead.

The event seems to get bigger every year.

Hundreds of people crowded into the Headwaters Park Pavilion mid-day to get their hands on bowls of chili, hot dogs, and cold beverages on a warm September day.

More than food and fun, it’s about celebrating the contributions of organized labor, and there's been an intentional goal of inviting not just union members and their families to take part, but the community at-large.

That strategy comes as the list of disappointments for labor unions gets longer.

A union now represents less than 12 percent of American workers.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker pushed to strip public employee unions of bargaining rights to balance the state budget.

When opponents demanded and got a Recall election to try and throw him out of office, he amassed even more votes the second time around.

Closer to home, Indiana passed "right to work" legislation earlier this year, making it illegal to charge workers mandatory union dues as a condition of employment.

" We've lost so much, benefits, wages, vacation time, you name it. Everything is down," said Tim Gibson, with Union Local 1389, representing Aerospace workers.

" Hopefully, labor will all join together and people will realize how important it is for somebody to stand up for them in the workplace," said Teresa Hammond, with Union Local 15173, representing steelworkers from Decatur.

" People in the economy have a voice in power. Right now that voice in power is being left to smart people in smart suits. There’s too much power among too few people," said Tom Lewandowski with the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council.

It's a Presidential election year, which means politicians have their ears open wider to special interest groups. But Lewandowski says if unions do a better job of representing workers, that's when they'll have real clout in the political arena.

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