By Jim Troyer
It was a typical union picnic in the park with sack races, an egg toss and a pinata. There were hamburgers and tacos for lunch.
The first United Food and Commercial Workers Labor Day picnic since the Hormel Foods Corp. strike of 1985-86 included a sign outside Veterans Pavilion at Community Bandshell Park signaling a change from picnics past: “Fiesta de Dia del Trabajo, Local 9,” it read — “Labor Day Picnic.”
“Our purpose today is to celebrate labor and to remember some of those people who gave their lives so that people could work an eight-hour day,” said Richard Morgan, president of Local 9.
The UFCW has 2,800 members in Austin, representing Hormel, Quality Pork Processors, Minnesota Freezer Warehouse, Accentra Credit Union, International Paper, some of Austin Utilities and some of the Mower County Courthouse.
“They are hard-working folks,” Morgan said, surveying the crowd. “They deserve a chance to kick back and enjoy life.”
It appeared that people were doing just that, enjoying Monday’s perfect weather and the spread catered by Hy-Vee.
Chris Heyer, who works in the ham-boning section at Hormel, and Dan Barnes, a quality grader at QPP, agreed that the people at work are just as comfortable with each other as they are at the picnic.
“It really does work well there,” said Barnes, “though the language barrier can be a problem.” But both companies encourage employees to attend free English as a Second Language classes. “And just a few phrases in English can help them to get by,” Barnes said.
Dianne Yauger and her son, Brandon Weis, a Hormel worker, stood watching the games in the park.
“It’s a good turnout,” she said of the event. “It’s wonderful that they did this.”
Morgan said the union family has reason to get along. “Over the last four years, we have seen the best contracts we’ve had in the past 20 years, wages, benefits — the overall package.”
“QPP has seen its best contract since they started business.”
The Local 9 president attributed that to “hard work and people standing together.”
Inside the pavilion, volunteers offered participants information about the 2010 census, which encourages everyone, citizens and non-citizens, to be counted. The Rev. Dave DeFor, of the Austin Church of Christ, noted that Austin has an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Hispanics who need to be counted. The data directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for such things as neighborhood improvements, public health, education and transportation.
DeFor was at the event to promote the World War II Honors Flight Program, which flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial. He said that another trip is set for Oct. 10 and three more are scheduled for next year, which will complete the roster of WWII vets in Mower County.
“I was excited that the union jumped into this,” he said.
Local 9 has sponsored a veteran and is providing other support for the program.