DECATUR — As he lined up Monday for his 25th Labor Day parade in Decatur, Mike Reynolds said he noticed something: the turnout.
Reynolds, 62, who has been a member of Operating Engineers Local 965 for 30 years, said he has never seen as many people line up to march for the parade as he did Monday.
“I think people are waking up to the fact that they need unions and that they need to stick together and to show that there is solidarity,” he said.
Solidarity was a word that came up often Monday during the annual Labor Day parade and picnic.
Officials from the Decatur Trades & Labor Assembly AFL-CIO and the Decatur Building & Construction Trades Council estimated that nearly 3,000 people showed up to the annual picnic at Fairview Park, representing Macon County’s 35 unions, as well as friends, families and candidates for the Nov. 6 general election.
Several officials at Monday's picnic said it has been a turbulent summer nationally for organized labor.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that government workers who choose not to join unions may not be required to help pay for collective bargaining, which was seen as a major blow to organized labor. The 5-4 decision arose from an Illinois case supported by Gov. Bruce Rauner: Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.
In August, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly voted down a proposition that would have made the Show-Me State the 28th to implement a law, commonly referred to as right-to-work, that would make it illegal for unions to charge fees to workers they represent who don’t want to pay them.
For a lot of people in organized labor, this summer has been an eye-opener, said Lloyd Holman, a member of the Decatur Trades & Labor Assembly's executive board who organized Saturday's picnic.
“Some of us have been sitting on our laurels for too long, and it’s time to start paying attention to exactly what is going on,” he said. “What happened in Missouri, I think that’s a message, and more people need to understand … you need to have a voice. Corporations are getting bigger, smarter and have larger bankrolls. Most individuals don’t have that. So how do you get around that? You have labor groups.”
Along with free food and inflatable play areas for kids, the picnic featured a special presentation by the We Are One Community Fund, which is supported by donations from union members. This year's grant total of $20,600 was a 24 percent increase from last year's total of $16,500. Donations were given to various local organizations, including:
- $3,500 to Old King's Orchard Community Center
- $2,000 to Decatur Family YMCA
- $2,000 to Good Samaritan Inn
- $2,000 to Meals on Wheels
- $1,500 to Big Brothers, Big Sisters
- $1,000 to Boy Scouts of America
- $1,000 to The Child 1st Center
- $1,000 to Decatur Power Tumblers
- $1,000 to Homework Hangout's pre-apprentice program
- $1,000 to Northeast Community Fund building fund
- $1,000 to Webster-Cantrell Hall
- $1,000 to Macon County CASA
An additional $2,600 in designations will be mailed to the Boys & Girls Club of Decatur, The Salvation Army, Dove Inc., American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, HSHS St. Mary's Hospice, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Special Olympics Illinois and the Macon County Animal Shelter.
Founded in 2011, more than $100,000 has distributed from the fund over the past seven years, said Amy Rueff, treasurer for the Decatur Trades & Labor Assembly.
Speaking at the picnic, Rueff said the event, and Labor Day in general, was the perfect way to once again remember everything that organized labor has done in the workforce, from the creation of the 8-hour workday to weekends off and paid vacations. And with issues like the Supreme Court Janus decision, she said it was all the more important to celebrate current workers in the field.
“The solidarity and the strength of unions here in Macon County is fabulous, and we’re really happy about it,” she said.
PHOTOS: Decatur celebrates Labor Day with parade and picnic
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