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Labor Day paradegoers mindful of Trump's anti-labor stance

The annual Labor Day Parade in South Buffalo came this year against a far different political backdrop than the previous eight.

The marchers needed no reminder that President Barack Obama, who was generally receptive to organized labor's interests, was no longer in the White House.

Donald Trump ran on an anti-union platform as a candidate even as he made overtures to the working class. Since taking office, Trump has packed his administration with officials with track records of supporting union-busting efforts, opposing minimum wage hikes and seeking to dismantle labor-friendly and environmental regulations.

"One is worse than the next," said Richard Lipsitz, president of WNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, outside the Buffalo Irish Center before the parade's start.

Lipsitz said Trump's ineffectiveness so far in getting anti-labor legislation through Congress was a saving grace.

"The good part is he hasn't been able to get through a lot of the things he might want to, so we have to fight," Lipsitz said.

The state of the country was on the minds of many on Monday, as wages remain fairly stagnant and income inequality grows.

"We're definitely worried about the president," said Chuck Herr, a member of United Auto Workers Local 774. "I don't like the state of the economy, I don't like the racial issues. I think we all need to come together as a country and be one, and work together to straighten this out."

"We're here to celebrate labor," said Dan DeCarlo, business manager for Boilermakers Local 7. "In the present political climate, it's more important now than ever."

It was a beautiful day for the Buffalo Central Labor Council AFL-CIO Labor Day Parade in South Buffalo on Monday, Sept. 4, 2017.

Marchers said unions – which gave the country the five-day, 40-hour work week, child labor laws, vacations and sick days, and pushed for many social welfare programs now taken for granted – were essential for people to receive good wages and safe working conditions.

"It is time for the working people of the United States to come together and have a voice," said Cori Gambini, president of CWA Local 1168. "Unions have been the voice of working people, and for those that are stricken in poverty and don't have a voice, for many decades. Unions have been shrinking and the middle class has been shrinking. Now it's time for us to take our country back and move forward."

"For the last 40 years – and it looks like there's no end in sight – pensions have been threatened, and Social Security doesn't cover the cost of housing anymore," said Steve Neubeck, a member of Jobs with Justice, part of the Coalition for Economic Justice. "The only one to save it is the labor movement, and it's no longer just the U.S.; it's an international fight."

A member of Buffalo Transit Riders United urged expansion of mass transit so people can get to jobs in the suburbs.

"A lot of the new jobs, at Geico and other big business parks, you can't really get to with a bus," Simon Husted said. "You need to basically think not just about training for new jobs, but access to those jobs."

Karleigh Radtke, 2, has a great time as she watches the Labor Day Parade with her family. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

A host of politicians, including many running in this fall's election, were on hand. Robert McLennan, former president of Branch 3 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, was the parade's grand marshal.

Sheriff Timothy B. Howard was the target of about 60 members of Showing Up for Racial Justice, who chanted, "Hey hey ho ho, Sheriff Howard has to go," as Howard rode past the group on a horse twice at the start of the parade.

The group wants Howard removed from office, blaming him for the deaths of 24 people in Erie County jails since he took office. They accuse him of perpetuating mass incarceration that disproportionately affects people of color, locking out the Department of Justice during an investigation and speaking at a rally where white supremacists were present.

As the marchers walked, some tossed Tootsie Rolls, Nerds and other candies to waiting children.

"I love this parade," said Marilyn McGurn, standing on a curb, waving a small flag. "It's like an old-time parade. The neighborhood comes out, the dogs, the kids, it's nice."

She said Labor Day held a special meaning to her.

"Look at all these workers. They work so hard, and some don't get paid very much money. This shows all the pride they have in their jobs," she said.

A fistful of candies was hurled her way, with kids quickly scooping them up.

"Don't step on that Kit Kat," McGurn called to one of them.

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