MASSENA One by one, unions walked through downtown Massena to the cheer of crowds lining Main Street at the 32nd annual Solidarity Day Parade.
The unions represented at Mondays parade spanned a large group of public and private-sector employees. There were crane operators and firefighters, electrical workers and St. Lawrence Seaway staff, teachers and road crews, Alcoa employees and General Motors retirees.
Unionizing helped all of those groups maintain a strong quality of life over the years, according to Ernest J. LaBaff, Aluminum, Brick & Glass Workers International Union president emeritus, who spoke at the events conclusion. Without unions, many of the benefits expected today such as 40-hour workweeks would not exist, he said.
When you belong to a union, theres a voice, said Mr. LaBaff, who first joined a union in September 1951.
If it wasnt for organized labor, non-union workers wouldnt have what they have today, he said. If there were no unions, who would help people keep what theyve got?
Hundreds lined Massenas sun-filled streets for the parade. Most children who attended brought bags or sacks along with them to catch the candy the union members tossed at the crowd as they marched. The parade concluded at Massenas Springs Park, where there were grilled hot dogs and hamburgers.
Each union had different reasons for marching in the parade.
Ironworkers Local 440 distributed leaflets titled Does Alcoa Really Care About Your Community? to parade-goers. That union is protesting a Texas firm, the CCC Group, which is completing repairs on Alcoas cast house roof.
They are hoping Alcoa will consider a project labor agreement proposed last week that would put more local workers on the project.
Teamsters Local 687 was celebrating its 75th anniversary and ordered special shirts and hats for the occasion.
The parade brings people out. It brings awareness to those who are not unionized, President Brian K. Hammond said. It shows were unified and care about the work force.
David W. LaClair, United Steelworkers Local 450-A president, said he hoped those in attendance would vote for political candidates who support organized labor.
This community was built on organized labor, he said. The tradition will go on. Id love to see it grow.
Those watching the parade expressed their support for organized labor. Loretta Lorri Fournier brought her 11-year-old granddaughter, Chelsea, to the event.
Mrs. Fournier remembered the bygone days of regular dances at the town hall and a soda fountain at the former downtown location of Kinney Drugs. Heading downtown for the Labor Day Parade is a tradition she has been able to keep even as her community changed over the last 30 years.
Were trying to support our town and the workers, she said. Its those people that keep things going.
Ronald P. McDougall, parade co-chairman, said the event was well-attended and well-received. Theyre already talking about a 33rd, he said.
There were 30,000 unionized workers represented in the Jefferson-Lewis-St. Lawrence Central Trades and Labor Council 25 years ago, according to Mr. McDougall.
That has dropped to 24,800 today, fueled in part by the closure of the General Motors Powertrain plant, gradual reductions at Massenas two Alcoa plants and an overall decline in organized labor regionwide.
Its no coincidence that the decline in organized labor coincides with the growing economic struggles of the middle class, Mr. McDougall said.
I think theres a direct correlation, he said. Theres been an erosion of the middle class.