GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The West Michigan Labor Fest brought people to downtown Grand Rapids to celebrate the holiday and learn about its significance. 

The annual Labor Day event celebrated the worker with live music, games and food. It brought together local unions and discussed the history of the holiday along with the role labor unions have played.

The retired assistant director of one of the largest unions in the nation — United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) — Region 1D, Michael Bieber, said the gathering is a great way to get a sense of what Labor Day is all about.

“This has been a long running event. I chaired this event for seven years back in the 80s and it’s a tradition here in Grand Rapids that we revived,” Bieber said. “It’s very important for us to all come together. This isn’t just a celebration of union labor, this is a celebration of working men and women, all labor, across this country.”

A potential strike by the UAW could happen this month. The contract with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the owner of Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge, expires on Sept. 14.  

“I’ve been through a lot of negotiations. It’s an anxious time for our membership. Hopefully it’s an anxious time for the corporations too because this is a wakeup call,” Bieber said.   

UPS avoided a strike after reaching a deal with union leaders but writers and actors in Hollywood remain on strike

Josh Roskamp with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees says workers have the upper hand in this tight labor market.

“For a long-time, management has been getting away with, you know, ‘We’re the big game in town you either want a job or not.’ Well, COVID kind of flipped that all upside down and now labor has an edge,” Roskamp said.

The union said it came close to striking before the traveling production of Frozen debuted in Grand Rapids but a last-minute deal was reached.

“Nobody wins in a strike, unfortunately, that seems that’s our last-ditch resort for the unions and when that happens that’s when that gets everybody’s attention and management learns what solidarity is, that we’re all in this together.”

A higher cost of living because of inflation coupled with concerns about the impact technology could have on eliminating positions are front and center with union leadership.

“Technology will forever continue to change things as it has from the beginning but it’s just important to continue to educate employees on the strength of working together as one instead of working it against each other,” Roskamp said.