WATSONVILLE — Hundreds gathered in Romo Park in Watsonville Monday for the annual Monterey Bay Central Labor Council (MBCLC) Labor Day Picnic, an event that draws workers and politicians from across the county.
“It’s a day to recognize the work the labor movement has done in our country,” said Hector Azpilcueta of UNITE HERE Local 483, a union that supports hospitality workers.
Azpilcueta added that battles to garner community support for unions have been going on since their inception and that today they have only a 60 percent approval rate.
“It’s an important moment in the history of our country,” he said. “Labor has built this country, but today it is the same fight.”
Azpilcueta pointed out that most of the people represented by the union were working during the Labor Day holiday.
MBCLC Executive Director Cesar Lara said that union membership is up, despite a recent court decision that limited their right to collect membership dues.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District teacher Kitty Mizuno said she looks forward to the picnic every year because it gives her a chance to mingle with workers from across the county.
Her daughter Aimee Mizuno, also a PVUSD teacher, agreed.
“It’s nice to see that you’re not alone in your little corner,” she said.
Watsonville City Councilwoman Ari Parker came to the picnic with her mother Aurora Parker.
“I’m out here to support everyone who works hard for a living, who has to teach, who has to create, and paint, whatever we do, food services, anyone who works hard for America,” she said. “And I hope everyone supports them too.”
California Senator Bill Monning said that there are currently many “false indicators” on a national level about economic vitality and employment levels. The real measurement, he said, are living-wage jobs.
“And living wage jobs are what unions bring workers and families,” he said.
“This (picnic) is affirming the importance of organized labor in our communities,” Monning added. “The difference between living in poverty and earning a living wage.”
Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo said the day was first and foremost a time for elected officials to mingle with dozens of labor unions throughout the Monterey Bay.
But it is equally important to appreciate the rights that unions have brought to workers, he said.
“Today is also about recognizing that a lot of things that we take for granted — like having an eight-hour workday or having overtime or rest periods,” Alejo said. “They weren’t free; they come at a price.”