For years, Stephanie Briskey marched in the Labor Day parade through downtown Toledo alongside her husband, Jim, and the members of his union.
Although members of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 33 had a presence in the parade yesterday, Jim Briskey did not. Instead, he's working in West Virginia at the only job the skilled worker could find, his wife said.
Mrs. Briskey sat in the shade of a building on Huron Street alongside her daughter, Theresa, 17, waiting for her other daughter, Jessica, to march by with the Start High School band.
"He was 104 at the union hall, waiting for work, so he took a job a month ago in West Virginia," said Mrs. Briskey with some emotion while anticipating her daughter's arrival by preparing her video camera.
"Hopefully, the election will bring some change," the Toledo resident added. "They can't ignore Ohio and Ohio is 'unionistic.'•"
On the weekend that both presidential candidates spoke at events in the area, labor members and their supporters chanted in hope of a better economy in Toledo.
Several thousand people lined the parade route along Summit, Adams, and Huron streets, to watch even more people march.
However, many noted that the crowds and the number of marchers seemed thinner than in years past.
Seventy-six local unions participated, the largest being the United Auto Workers, who had hundreds of marchers in gray T-shirts making up the seven locals.
Most carried signs in support of the employees of Lucas County Juvenile Court, whose permission to unionize with the UAW was recently rescinded by Judge Denise Cubbon.
And with the UAW presence traveled dozens of American-made cars and trucks.
Dave Taylor, 64, of Toledo, retired in 2001 after spending nearly 32 years in the Toledo traffic engineer's office, some of that time as a president of American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees Local 7. He said for years he marched in the parade and since retirement, he's come to watch.
"Unions need support. They need to know the community is behind them," he said as he packed up his chair from the corner of Adams and Huron streets. "Union jobs are drying up. Businesses are selling. Benefits are expensive. The bottom line is that it's not what it used to be."
Parade Grand Marshal Oscar Bunch agreed.
Mr. Bunch, a retired UAW leader, said that American industry is struggling to stay competitive in a market where imports are underselling American goods. Namely, American cars, he said.
Mr. Bunch, 78, of Lambertville, recalled when the UAW helped reinvent the Labor Day parade in the mid-80s during the nine-month strike at AP Parts Co. He said labor got together then and has continued to show support for each other since. That solidarity, he said, is the positive part of celebrating labor.
"The unions built Toledo. Union labor built Toledo," he said. "To see union labor unite in solidarity is just great."
On hand to show support were several elected officials including county heads and judges. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) stood beside Rep. John Conyers, Jr., (D., Detroit) on the grandstand at the first of their many stops in support of labor. Mr. Conyers said he would participate in Detroit's parade after Toledo and then go to Monroe where presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama was speaking.
Miss Kaptur said Toledo has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy because unlike cities where people trade goods, Toledoans build them. And while other communities are struggling as well, cities like Toledo felt the bite first.
"America needs a better day. So this Labor Day parade is like a walk of hope with a recognition that it's going to take federal action to give them fair footing in this global playing field. American workers don't have that now," she said.
Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner traveled with the congressmen after spending the morning waving to Toledo's union members. He said Toledoans are resilient and that those participating in the parade have shown that they "haven't given up."
Tresa Anderson, 40, of Holland, sat in the early morning sun at Superior and Adams streets with her 9-year-old son, Brandon. Ms. Anderson said she comes to the parade every year - although this year without her two older children - to not only show support but to enjoy a free event in the city.
And with a purse full of candy already collected by Brandon, she said this year's event was not a disappointment. As for the 4th grader, he couldn't decide whether it was the trucks, the marching bands, or the people waving and handing out candy that was the best part of Labor Day.
"It's just that I like to wave at people, I like the candy, I also like the cars and the people on the trucks," he said, diving for a new batch of candy thrown to the curb. "I don't know. It's just everything."
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6076.