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Labor Day a ‘sacred day’ to local unions

Central Labor Council of Contra Costa to host fundraising barbecue

By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Labor Day is a time to honor “the people who, with their own hands, built those empires,” the companies that made names like Carnegie, Roosevelt, Gould, Bell and Edison household names.

That’s the thought of Bob Lilley, assistant business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 302.

The labor movement began in the 1800s, developing after the Industrial Revolution, Lilley said.

The heads of the companies and industries were the ones to get public attention, he said. “They were visionaries.”

“But the people who built them, who put their sweat into the project” largely were unknown, he said. “A grand, faceless, nameless group built America.”

Nobody spoke for them, either, Lilley said. “No one advocated for those in the race.”

At times, those working in the factories did so in sweatshop conditions. Frustrated workers began to organize so they could find a voice, and that led to the development of unions.

“Today, Labor Day is more than unions,” Lilley said. “It’s about people who get up every day and work with their hands, planting trees, spreading gravel, pulling wire and laying pipe.”

He said unions and other labor movement advocates “fiercely guard Labor Day.”

Too often, federal and other holidays that give employees and others a day off lose their significance. “It’s a sacred day,” he said about Labor Day.

Labor unions are key to the development of the American middle class, Lilley said.

“There’s a lot of talk abut the erosion of the middle class,” he said, and that parallels declines in union memberships.

“The question is how to disburse money,” he said about how corporations handle their income. Lilley said each employee generates money for his or her company.

“Unions have done a good job through collective bargaining, showing companies and corporations the value of their employees,” he said.

Communities may not have Labor Day parades as were done in the past. Some people may simply see it as a chance to get in one more barbecue before fall. And that’s fine with Lilley. In fact, that’s how he expects to spend the day.

“I’ve been a wireman a long time,” he said. Lilley began in 1972, when he was indentured. He was made a journeyman in 1976, and during his career worked plenty of overtime and swing shifts.

“When you’re young, you do it for money, or for a car. Then, as you expand your family, you do it for your wife, your son and your daughter, your house in a good community. You do it for them,” he said.

It makes him appreciate the time he gets to spend with them.

“How I celebrate Labor Day is to make sure I’m around my family and friends. And barbecue? I will absolutely do that on Labor Day.”

He said the Central Labor Council of Contra Costa County is doing the same thing. Its Labor Day Barbecue, a fundraiser for the Contra Costa Family Community Fund, will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at Waterfront Park at the end of Ferry Street. Those attending will be asked to make donations to the Contra Costa Family Community Fund.

The labor council has been offering sponsorships at $500 for gold, $300 for silver and $150 for platinum sponsors, to help underwrite the event, one of 13 scheduled in Northern California.

Among the activities will be face painting and live entertainment. Food, drinks and snow cones will be available. Those interested may make reservations by calling (925) 372-8608 or emailing cccfamilycommunityfund@gmail.com.

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