MILWAUKEE, Wis — On a day marked as the unofficial end of summer, hundreds turned out at Henry Maier Festival Park to celebrate each other.
Labor Fest opened its gates to dozens of different groups donning fluorescent matching t-shirts and other apparel sporting local union names. From teachers to steamfitters and everything in between, these workers all honored what today means to their profession.
"My thoughts on this day have changed," Lori Ocampo, a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher said. "It's not a 'go up north' and vacation for the last hurrah. It's to get together with our brothers and sisters and celebrate that collective power."
"We've been able to fight for things like the eight hour work day and the five day work week where you actually get to spend time with family," Tony Mayrhofer, Business Manager for Iron Workers Local 8 said. "Enjoy what we all work hard to be able to take care of."
This year marks the 125th anniversary of Labor Day. It started in 1894 as a day to recognize worker's rights. Even today, people like Mayrhofer are fighting for those rights.
"I'm the leader of our union," Mayrhofer said. "Today is not a vacation. No day is a vacation. I'm constantly talking about it."
"To have livable wages, to have good benefits, to have all the things that unions bargain for on behalf workers and on behalf of professionals alike," Cesar Hernandez said.
Hernandez is a first generation American. His parents immigrated from Mexico when they were children. Thanks to unions and worker rights, they joined unions and were able to provide for him and on Labor Day he recognizes how fortunate he is.
"If not for Labor Day or for the labor movement in general, my life would not have turned out the way it did," Hernandez said. "My parents are union, through and through. Union paychecks are what put food on my table every day."
"There are hundreds of different local unions down here with families celebrating what they believe in," Pam Fendt, President of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council said. "Many say Milwaukee is a union town and we would agree with that."
Fendt says it's been a good year for unions in Milwaukee. She says new contracts were negotiated with Harley-Davidson, steelworkers and Caterpillar. All of this is being celebrated today.
"Labor Fest is about organized labor," Fendt said. "Of course, we care about all workers but really holding up the ones that take time out of their day to go to a union meeting or come out to some picket or strike activity. It's taking time out of their day when they could be with their family but they want to hold up their brothers and sisters they work alongside."