Burlington, Vermont - September 4, 2006
More than 300 people marched in the annual Labor Day parade in Burlington. But there were few on-lookers, and even fewer Republicans.
The labor parade included union members, some hyping pro-labor political issues, and pro-labor political candidates, most of them Democrats and Independents confidently expecting union endorsements for the November election. But there were few onlookers for the parade.
The sidewalks were nearly empty and the marchers often had to carefully avoid impatient motorists, even Scudder Parker, the Democrat running for Governor. He was forced to stop abruptly to avoid being hit by two cars that whizzed by. The drivers had apparently not seen him or noticed the parade.
"It's never been billed as a sort of massive parade you know," he explained when asked why only a handful of spectators turned out.
Parker says the annual Labor Day parade is essential for Democrats, despite declining union clout.
He knows that labor unions represented more than 30% of the U.S. workforce in 1977. Today, just 30 years later, unions represent less than 12% of the workforce.
"You know ministers often preach to the choir and it's a very good thing to have the congregation get together," said Parker.
That get-together was the post-parade barbecue that included a fiery speech by U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Sanders, a longtime friend of labor. He says it is a mistake to underestimate union influence.
"And I think in fact, you're seeing a galvanized and motivated union out there trying to make sure that we end this one-party government that we currently have with Bush-Cheney, day-after-day, working for the wealthy and forgetting about the middle class," explained Sanders.
Damon Hall is a middle-class union ironworker who attended the Labor Day get-together. He says illegal, anti-union hiring practices in Vermont have forced him to leave his family behind for months at a time in order to land union work in other states.
"I've been on the road for four years in and out of Vermont I live right here in Swanton and it's been stressful for my family I don't see my kids grow up. I don't see any of those things just so I can have a good insurance plan for my family," said Hall.
It's a situation Hall and other union members believe will change for the better if pro-union candidates win in November, despite the declining union membership.
Brian Joyce - Channel 3 News