Working through changing times 

The clock reads 15 minutes ahead of the outside world at Missoula’s Union Club. Labor Day comes early here, and Kay Falconbridge is all smiles two days before the holiday. She’s not just a bartender. She’s union, Labor 407. She’s a face to put to what might otherwise pass as just another holiday.

Not many labor union members down at Union Hall this weekend, Falconbridge says. Most are off camping, or simply enjoying an extended weekend with their families. Falconbridge is restocking bottles, chatting with regulars. She plans to spend her paid vacation day gambling up at Grey Wolf Peak Casino.

However, the weekend is not without a point of mild tension. The Central Labor Council rescheduled its Labor Day picnic again, pushing it back to the following Sunday, Sept. 7. Falconbridge and others remember when it actually fell on Labor Day, when the business agents would cook for the union folk. Now Knuckleheads BBQ caters.

“I’d love to say it was the sheer genius of predicting the weather,” Council President Mark Anderlik explains on a rainy Monday afternoon.

A large part of rescheduling the picnic these past three years has been accommodating labor-endorsed state and local candidates who might visit. Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Sen. Max Baucus are usually invited. Sen. Jon Tester has dropped in. This year, perhaps Barack Obama’s campaign staff will make an appearance.

“We’re always trying to keep people knowing the people who are fighting for their rights,” Anderlik says.

Anderlik adds the date change improved union member turnout, too. And with the modern work environment rife with employee rights violations, it’s important to remind workers that those rights exist, he says.

For some at the Union Club, Labor Day is a time to appreciate the history of the labor movement and its continued contribution to the American workforce.

“We’ve come a long way since kids risked life and limb in mines for low wages,” says union member Brian Birske. Birske was never much of a labor person growing up, but the holiday took on new meaning—benefits, pensions, protection from corporate woes—when he joined the local Teamsters No. 2.

“The only protection we get is from the labor unions,” Birske says. “I’m proud of the unions because of that. They take care of you as you get older.”
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