Picnics, football games and a “last” trip to the beach will occupy the time of many area residents on Labor Day 2017 but the real meaning may be lost on many.
Labor Day is a federal holiday and has been since 1894 but the origin goes back even further when the Central Labor Union helped create a holiday for workers in 1882, according to timeanddate.com.
“It was originally intended that the day would be filled with a street parade to allow the public to appreciate the work of the trade and labor organizations,” the website states.
It is also a reminder of labor unions and their work in the United States.
Rich Sandberg, president of Teamsters Local 377, said the union represents a wide variety of workers. The union’s bread and butter operations were warehouse workers and truck drivers but that has changed significantly over the years.
“We represent anything now from bus drivers to public workers,” Sandberg said. He said the union does not represent teachers.
The de-regulation of trucking in 1980 changed the union’s dynamics as many truckers became independent and some trucking organizations left the union.
Sandberg said the labor movement is doing well, especially in areas of economic success, but representation is now strong in public sector unions and businesses like UPS.
“As a whole we are doing pretty well,” he said.
Health care is the biggest issue facing labor unions and companies. “It used to be wages,” Sandberg said.
The lack of a long term plan for health care relating to the Affordable Care Act, or a replacement, leaves many issues relating to health care up in the air. “With the instability of that (national health care legislation) it is harder for negotiations,” he said.
Sandberg said there is much less negativity when labor unions are negotiating with companies, or municipalities. “We try to work together. We want our companies to be profitable so the employees will have jobs,” he said.
He said any “Right to work” legislation would be very challenging to the labor movement. “We need some funds,” he said of the necessity of union dues.
The Laborers International Union of North America Chapter 245 is also active in Ashtabula County representing many heavy machinery operators, building trades workers and gas workers, said union business manager Nicole Deligianis
She said many local contractors and businesses including Kapp Steel, Koski Construction and Union Industrial Contractors work with the union on contract negotiations.
“This particular Local has been in business for 79 years,” Deligianis said. She said there are “generational” families in the 150 Ashtabula County residents represented by the union.
In addition to contract negotiation the union is involved with a variety of training programs including a four year apprenticeship program that allows young people to have an excellent education in the trades including paving work and other heavy machinery skills.
“I think we have a highly-skilled work force,” she said.
Deligianis said the union is constantly changing to meet the ever-changing needs of the industries involved. “We are listening to the pulse of the (industries). We are on the cutting edge,” she said.
The labor movement is important not only for union workers but non-union workers as well, Deligianis said. “The union sets the prevailing scale and all workers benefit from that,” she said.
Deligianis said unions work closely with politicians on “both sides of the aisle” which may not have been the case 15 years ago.
She said the union also is integrally involved in the life of the community. She said a cooperative effort with other unions, businesses and government entities led to the construction of a pavilion at Clifford Caden Presidential Park in Ashtabula.
Deligianis said there have not been any significant discussions regarding work stoppage in quite some time.
She said the union’s pension plan is also 100 percent funded.