Organized Labor Holds Annual Labor Day Picnic (VIDEO)

By Eric Dutkiewicz - 21Alive
By Jeff Neumeyer

September 2, 2013 Updated Sep 2, 2013 at 5:27 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) - Putting the American worker in the spotlight.

Thousands of people converged Monday on Headwaters Park, for the city's annual Labor Day picnic.

It provided a chance for organized labor to re-inforce its key messages in an increasingly tough environment to promote its causes.

Last year, 7,000 people poured in to the downtown venue to take advantage of the food and entertainment options associated with the Labor Day picnic, and the ideal weather this year kept the crowds rolling in.

In 2012, the Indiana Legislature passed a 'right to work' law, giving workers say in whether they pay union dues or not.

There was a fear it would drive down union memberships that have already suffered, in part, because of the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Local labor leaders and elected officials say those concerns may be overblown.

" It doesn't appear that there's been sort of this drop-off in membership that we've seen. Contracts are coming up, so we'll see what labor members decide to do, but I think most of them sound like they're going to stay with their union," said Democratic State Representative Phil Giaquinta from Fort Wayne, who opposed passage of the law.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says union workers in this country earn on average about $10,000 more per year than non-union workers.

" A lot of people complain about them, you know, they do good and some of them do bad. That's about it, you know what I mean," said Andres Perez, who retired from Teamsters Local 414.

“ But they did help me, they helped me a lot.”

But organized labor faces a number of big challenges.

A two-tier wage system is now in place at the Fort Wayne GM Truck Assembly Plant and in other factories across the U.S.

Is it wrong to have new workers earning significantly less than their more veteran colleagues?

" I understand companies have to be competitive and make a profit too. I don't like the idea that they make their profit all on the back of the workers. I think some of the investors could take a little bit of a cut," said Casey Hofmann with Ironworkers Local 147.

The head of the United Auto Workers has already stated that restoring a one-tier wage system will be a top priority the next time the union and Detroit automakers bargain new contracts in 2015.

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