After 24 years with the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 18, Hira Garrett doesn’t want to see Ohio become a right-to-work state.
“I want it to stay union so every male and female can make a proper income to take care of their families,” the retired 61-year-old Toledo woman said as she waited Monday for the procession of pro-labor marchers to begin.
Ohio is surrounded on nearly all sides by right-to-work states that passed laws so workers can’t be forced, either by an employer or by the terms of a union contract, to join a workplace bargaining unit. Right-to-work supporters argue the laws promote business growth and attract jobs away from states with forced union membership, while unions contend they weaken their standing in workplaces.
“Unions have been good to me and a lot of other people. That’s why we continue to fight,” Ms. Garrett said.
Dozens of unions were represented in the annual labor day parade in downtown Toledo, led this year by grand marshal and 9th District congressman Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who many view as a champion of labor rights in a district with a large union contingent. In addition to labor groups, the parade featured candidates — such as Miss Kaptur — who are running for election Nov. 6.
“I was first elected in a deeply troubled economy and I’ve never forgotten that,” Miss Kaptur said. “It anchors my service.”
With 28 states adopting right-to-work laws, “America is at a cross-roads,” said Miss Kaptur, who has represented the district for 35 years.
“There are many values that are being tested,” she said. “The people who are here today know the power and the worth of their labor and they understand the power of a contract.”
Nikita Smith, Jr., 29, works at the Fiat Chrysler Toledo Assembly Complex in North Toledo and enjoys the protection that comes with union membership.
“There are a lot of jobs where they can let you go for anything,” he said. “You’ve got somebody to stand up for you and speak for you.”
About 11 percent of American workers in 2017 were union members, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, unions represented about 20 percent of the work force. Ohio currently has about 600,000 workers in private and public unions.
The groups marching represented tradesmen, factory workers, and teachers who traveled down North Summit Street in trucks waving signs with pro-labor messages.
One group, United Auto Workers Local 12, denounced the imminent closing of their auto packaging factory Hinkle with signs reading, “Our Last Parade Ever” and “United till the End.”
Jennifer Jenson, 49, comes from a long line of union supporters. Her grandfather was a member of the bargaining unit at the former Doehler-Jarvis auto parts plant and traveled the country to help organize other workers.
“He risked his life for it,” she said.
As a cafeteria worker and janitor, Ms. Jenson has been a member of the union at the Washington Local School District for three years.
“I should have done this job a long time ago,” she said. “When you’re working non-union you’re doing whatever and you work your butt off for nothing. Now I’m protected.”
Contact Liz Skalka at 419-724-6199, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lizskalka.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.