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Unions look to bolster numbers, power at Detroit's annual Labor Day parade

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Thousands of union members marched into downtown Detroit Monday as part of the city’s annual Labor Day parade.

Mirroring the downward trend in union membership nationally, parade attendance has lagged in recent years.

But the event still draws a big crowd, and there was an effort to bump up attendance this year, particularly from UAW locals.

The UAW is in the midst of bargaining new contracts with Detroit automakers.

The current “two-tier” wage system dividing older and newer assembly line workers members is expected to be a central issue, as are health care and profit-sharing.

At a parade-ending rally, UAW President Dennis Williams told supporters he still hasn’t identified a “target” automaker to lead those negotiations yet—even though the contract for more than 140,000 auto workers expires next week.

Usually, the UAW identifies a “lead” automaker to bargain with, negotiating a contract whose terms are then closely followed by the other two. Williams said there’s been “progress” in talks with all three companies so far.

Teamsters union President Jim Hoffa also took the stage to announce a potential alliance with UAW workers, in the event bargaining stalls and workers strike.

If that happens, Teamsters car-haulers will honor UAW picket lines, Hoffa said.

“That gives the [UAW] more power at the table, if they know the Teamsters are not going to haul those cars,” Hoffa said.

Detroit’s Labor Day parade, which dates back to the 1880s, has historically been dominated by industrial unions like the UAW and those in the skilled trades.

But as the labor force has changed, service sector unions—like those representing fast food, custodial, and in-home health care workers—have taken on a higher profile.

Alicia Weaver is with Unite Here Local 24, a union representing hotel, casino, and other Detroit hospitality workers.

She says those workers also want to be a part of Detroit’s “big comeback.”

“In order for that to happen, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got good service workers in place. And we provide that,” Weaver said. “And with that being said, we just want to make sure that if we’re providing a good service, that we’re taken care of as well.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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