Unions join festivities on Labor Day
By Judy Masterson firstname.lastname@example.org September 3, 2012 9:00PM
The ZB mascot in the parade. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 3, 2012 2:02AM
It’s not a Labor Day parade, but the Zion Jubilee Day parade marches through the national holiday created to honor workers and the labor and trade unions that fought to give them a voice in the workplace. Two unions make it a point to participate.
“We come out to support labor,” said Don Carlson, business manager for Libertyville-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 150. “People forget. Unions brought the 40-hour work week, the eight-hour work day, safety in the workplace, paid vacations, health insurance. We fought for those things. And we’re still fighting.”
Just 8 percent of the American workforce belongs to private-sector unions, according to Carlson, who said unions have been unfairly blamed for the nation’s economic problems.
Union membership reached 34 percent of the American workforce in the mid-1950s and it has been on the decline ever since. Union membership in 2011 sunk to a 70-year low of 11.8 percent.
“What we need is jobs and good-paying jobs,” Carlson said.
Plumbers Local 93 U.A., whose members walked behind a red, white and blue float on Monday, is opening good jobs to veterans through its VIP — Veterans in Piping — program, which offers free training and guaranteed employment in the plumbing, pipefitting and steamfitting trades.
Nathan Rustebakke, 32, of Racine, who served in the U.S. Army from 1999-2003, and who witnessed the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, said that after his discharge, he had trouble earning enough to support his family. Then, he learned about VIP through Veteran Affairs. He has worked out of Local 93 for the past three months on plumbing jobs in new construction and remodeling projects in Gurnee, Northbrook and McHenry.
“I really appreciate having a good job,” Rustebakke said.
“Instead of handing a vet a disability check and us sitting at home, give us a job,” said Matt Fisher, another VIP tradesman, who moved from the Seattle area to Wisconsin and who now works as a plumber. “Let us work on our life.”