WATSONVILLE — After years of holding its annual Labor Day barbecue in a small redwood park in north Santa Cruz, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council moved the event to downtown Watsonville on Monday.
The move to the small, grassy park across from Watsonville Plaza was a way to highlight the large population of union workers that live here, and to make the event more visible, said MBCLC President Cesar Lara.
“Watsonville is a union town,” he said. “This is really the heart of Monterey and Santa Cruz County.”
Increasing the visibility of union issues was also important in a time when conservative lawmakers are increasingly targeting unions, said Watsonville Mayor Oscar Rios.
“Even more than ever we have to stay strong,” he said. “I don’t see anything good coming for the workers.”
Most recently, the nonprofit National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation Committee asked the United States Supreme Court to consider the case of Janus v. AFSCME.
If successful, that case would allow union-supported employees to opt out of paying union dues, which would essentially scuttle union power by undercutting its funding source.
The event drew more than 200 people who came to participate in a short march, which stopped at McDonald’s and Wells Fargo Bank, businesses union organizers say deny workers’ right to unionize.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee Karen Osmundson said she attends the event every year.
“I strongly believe in the power of unions,” she said. “And it’s more important than it’s ever been in the history of the country.”
Maria Alejo, a medical assistant with the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency, said unions help workers keep their benefits and other rights.
Alejo is protected by Service Employees International Union.
“Everyone needs a union,” she said. “I’ve heard horror stories of people who don’t have them.”
Watsonville City Councilman Felipe Hernandez said that supporting unions is particularly important in places such as Watsonville.
“Labor brought the American dream,” he said. “That includes home ownership and university for their kids. We should celebrate labor and make sure families have a better quality of life.”
Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers President Francisco Rodriguez said that it is important to remember the history that has brought workers to where they are today.
That includes such rights as a 40-hour workweek and an end to child labor, he said.
“This has been a very long struggle,” he said. “People have lost their lives for these issues.”