Hundreds of people gathered at George Washington Park in Centralia on Monday for the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council’s annual picnic.
In addition to a bouncy house and a stage for speakers, there were plenty of hamburgers, corn on the cob and other picnic favorites.
“It’s just a good time for camaraderie,” said Bobby Joe Murray of Aberdeen, who is a business representative with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. “To realize while we get tied up in our own little worlds, everybody is fighting the same fight.”
The Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council has more than 20,000 affiliated members in South Sound, said council president Bob Guenther.
One of the largest employers of those union workers is the state of Washington, he added.
Guenther said the picnic was a chance for folks to network, get to know some local politicians and show their support for Lewis County, which has of the highest unemployment rates and some of the lowest wages in the state.
“Seventy percent of the state’s average wage is not acceptable,” he said.
However, those numbers could change if businesses and labor unions continue to work together to develop a proposed industrial park to Lewis County, Guenther said.
“It’s going to be much like the Fredrickson development outside Puyallup,” he said, adding that the park could bring thousands of new jobs to the area.
Safeway worker Tanya Murray of Aberdeen said she believes unions are beginning to rebound from the recession just like employers.
In fact, her union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, recently helped staff some informational pickets at other stores in Pierce County, and is trying to negotiate a new contract for its employees.
But the bargaining process isn’t easy, she said.
“The employers are trying to cut healthcare for everybody who works under 30 hours a week,” she said. “They don’t want any increases in wages. Pretty much everything is a take away.”
For Peter Lahmann of Centralia, the picnic was a chance to grill burgers and possibly recruit new people for the Northwest Laborers-Employers Training Trust apprenticeship programs.
“We’re taking people if they are interested,” he said.
The event also was a time for the community to get together and celebrate organized labor’s legacy, he said.
“It’s just the time we take to remember what those that went before us did,” Lahmann added. “The things our forefathers fought for – they won those battles people don’t have to fight for anymore.”