Fort Wayne has plenty of decision-making boards, but according to one labor organizer, unions have been underrepresented.
“One of the top things is that there are so many boards and commissions that are in this community and labor is really not represented on a lot of them,” said Lloyd Osborne, business representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399.
“What we want to do is start to be recognized for the work we give back to this community,” said Osborne, one of about 6,500 people who gathered Monday at Headwaters Park for the annual Labor Day Picnic.
“We're not only just union members – we live and work in this community and this community is so important to us.”
This year's picnic, hosted by various unions, came less than a week after Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry announced the creation of a Labor Round Table, designed to bring every sector of the organized labor community to the table.
Darryl Esterline, business representative of SMART Sheet Metal Workers Local 20 and president of the Northeast Indiana Building and Construction Trades, co-chaired Monday's event. Esterline said organized labor in Fort Wayne began celebrating Labor Day in the late 1800s.
The picnic is one way local labor organizations give back to the community, Esterline said, as attendees feasted on hot dogs, chili, beer, water and soft drinks.
Among the thousands of attendees, many were representing local unions, including the AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, U.S. Iron Workers, Sheet Metal Workers and more.
In light of the mayor's newly announced round table, The Journal Gazette asked several union representatives what they hope to see from future discussions about labor in Fort Wayne.
“What we would like (from the round table) is an opportunity for our voices to be heard about collective bargaining rights – wages, fringe benefits packages and working conditions here in the city of Fort Wayne,” Esterline said.
Others, who declined to provide their names for varying reasons, echoed Esterline, while also bemoaning the 2014 removal of collective bargaining rights from non-public safety unions by the Fort Wayne City Council. One woman, who declined to be named, said workers with Fort Wayne Public Works and the parks department have a role in public safety and should not be excluded from the bargaining table.
Several candidates running in the November city election, including the mayor, County Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, City Councilmen Glynn Hines and Geoff Paddock and Allen County Democratic Party Chair Misti Meehan, attended Monday's picnic.
If elected, they said they plan to push for a restoration of collective bargaining rights.
Osborne said because of the work labor unions put into the city, it's important that labor is represented on boards and commissions with other community leaders.
“We want to make sure people know that we're not here just to have demands or go on strike,” Osborne said. “We want to do more for this community.”
Labor unions lift people up, Holli Murphy, president of the United Auto Workers Local 2209, said. More than anything, Murphy said she wants to see commitment from the mayor's office in support of labor as Henry's round table takes shape.
“We stand for everybody,” Murphy said.