By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ALEXANDRIA — This year, the Madison County Solidarity Labor Council added more vendors to its Labor Day Picnic and changed its car show into a cruise-in to allow participants the chance to mingle, but the purpose of the day remained the same.
"It's to give everybody a day of relaxation," Solidarity President Patrick Hill said Monday. "Labor Day is traditionally a day of celebration for the efforts of working men and women."
For 15 years, the last five spent in Alexandria, the council — in existence for 17 years to give workers a "voice out in the community" — has been hosting the picnic.
Hill said union and non-union workers have come together in the past and present to "improve working conditions," like fighting for eight-hour workdays. Right now, he said, members are working with politicians to show them that workers are their best assets.
Union members "don't always see eye to eye" with these politicians, he said, "but things are promising."
Labor is tied in with economic development, Hill added, so members from unions are working with officials to help improve factors businesses look at like education, infrastructure, safety and the available workforce.
Wages and hours are factors, he said, as workers "want time to spend with family, time to do what needs to be done at home" while also having a job that meets needs and is satisfying.
Some are "working two or three jobs just to make ends meet," Hill said, so work is being done to help raise people out of poverty, too.
Better pay helps people "get off government assistance and adds dignity" to the work being done, he said, along with providing a better quality of life.
And with better pay comes more loyalty to companies and more money spent out in a community at places like restaurants and stores, he added.
With some government laws and regulations, John Jones, of Alexandria, said, there's less incentive to work hard.
For example, some who receive government assistance such as Medicaid wouldn't get that assistance if they worked more hours, he said. And some companies are cutting workers' hours or positions to meet insurance guidelines.
These factors, Jones said, affect not only the workers but also quality for consumers.
"Where we were (in the past) to now the American dream is more of a fantasy," he said.
And, he added, "the only way we can come back" is to become united rather than bicker between political parties.
Today, Jones sees Labor Day as more of an end to summer indicating that it's "time to get busy" again.
Larry Etchison, who retired from Guide Lamp in 2001 and brought out his 1968 Camaro for the cruise-in, said the Labor Day Picnic is for celebrating workers and seeing people he hasn't seen in awhile.
As for labor and the economy today, he said there just aren't as many good-paying jobs.
"It just ain't like it was back in the '60s," he said.
Attendance for the picnic and cruise-in was up from around 1,500 last year to around 2,000 this year, Hill said.
Like Dani Palmer on Facebook and follow her @DaniPalmer_THB on Twitter, or call 640-4847.