La Crosse Laborfest returns to celebrate workers after two-year hiatus

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — After a two-year pandemic break, the La Crosse community came together to celebrate workers.

At La Crosse’s Labor Day parade, some came for the candy, while others showed up for the unity.

“It’s my tenth year of doing this. It just represents how hard…. we work for the benefits we get,” said Kimberly Gilman, who was walking with a union in the parade.

Much of that hard work is done by unions– Organizations who Laborfest-goers say have paved the way to today.

“Labor is what drives this country. Without labor—nothing gets done, nothing gets made, nothing gets moved,” said Rick Mickschl.

Labor Day celebrates workers.

“It’s important to have it—just to recognize everyone’s hard work and to kick back and enjoy your family and friends,” said Mike Davis, president of Western Wisconsin’s AFL-CIO, a coordinating council for area unions.

In the two years since La Crosse’s last Labor Day Parade, the work force has changed. Mickschl says employers– and employees– are taking notice.

“For years and years, businesses have counted on ‘let’s pay minimum wage. Let’s pay someone $7.50 an hour, they can’t afford a home, they can’t afford children, they can’t afford a car. Workers are resurging now. Employers have to realize, we are a commodity. We are a valued commodity,” he said.

“We’re just out there looking for good quality jobs—that’s what Everyone wants for their family. Good paying jobs and good benefits, that’s what they’re looking for,” Davis said.

Because of the ongoing worker shortage, these laborers say they won’t settle.

“People want rights at work. They want to be treated fairly with respect and they want to be treated fairly with wages, and they want to be treated fairly with their employers,” Davis said.

Ultimately, this Labor Day provided a chance for families to come together– both relatives, and the family we choose.

“Union, to me, is a big family for me,” Davis said.

Laborfest is hosted by Western Wisconsin’s American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO.

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