DETROIT — Labor union supporters and the governor who made this the first right-to-work Labor Day in Michigan marched on opposite ends of the state Monday as America observed the holiday honoring working people.
Gov. Rick Snyder set a fast pace as he led thousands of walkers across the 5-mile Mackinac Bridge that links Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. In Detroit, Teamsters union national President James Hoffa was among the thousands of participants in the annual Labor Day rally.
Mr. Snyder, who set a personal best and exceeded his goal by crossing in 57 minutes, said Michigan’s economy and labor market have made progress.
“We’re continuing to expand,” he said before stepping off from St. Ignace. “We still need to improve.”
Youth employment is especially important for Michigan’s future, he said.
“We want to keep making things better, particularly for young people,” the governor said.
About 250 miles to the south, thousands of labor union supporters marched through the streets of downtown Detroit for the annual parade and rally.
National Teamsters union President James P. Hoffa and United Auto Workers President Bob King were among those addressing Monday’s rally.
“Labor Day in Detroit. Is anything better than that? We’re the conscience of America,” Mr. Hoffa said.
President Obama participated in 2011 and Vice President Joe Biden did so last year. This year’s speakers included U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and fellow Michigan Democrats U.S. Reps. John Dingell of Dearborn and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township.
The theme for the 2013 Labor Day parade was “The Dream Continues: Jobs, Justice, and Peace,” honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and emphasizing the link between civil rights and economic justice, organizers said.
“More than ever we need this parade,” Tom Brenner, president of UAW Local 889, told the Detroit News. “We are trying to remind people of the sacrifices made over the years.”
His local represents about 2,200 active and retired office and clerical workers at Chrysler, the Detroit Medical Center, and Detroit Marriott hotel and said a main issue this year is the impact of legislation making Michigan a so-called right-to-work state.
This is the first Labor Day since the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature and GOP governor approved legislation that bars unions from collecting mandatory fees from represented employees.
“The unions are what built this town,” Vernon Williams, a worker at Detroit Diesel, told the newspaper. “A lot of people don’t understand the history and its significance. The unions are what unite us. There’s a pulse still running through the city.”
Politics and the economy took the back seat in the German-themed vacation community of Frankenmuth, where history and fun were foremost for about 200 people who joined the annual walk across the historic Holz-Brücke Covered Bridge.
The bridge has served as the main entrance to the Bavarian Inn Lodge since 1986, and Monday’s walk was a celebration of the labor involved in constructing the bridge in the late 1970s.