Labor council serves up burgers, corn and camaraderie at Centralia picnic

lpemberton@theolympian.comSeptember 3, 2013 

Hundreds of people gathered at George Washington Park in Centralia on Monday for the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council’s annual Labor Day picnic.

In addition to a bouncy house for kids and a stage for guest speakers, there were plenty of hamburgers, corn on the cob and other picnic favorites.

“It’s just a good time for camaraderie,” said Bobby Joe Murray of Aberdeen, who is a business representative with the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers. “To realize while we get tied up in our own little worlds, everybody is fighting the same fight.”

The Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council has more than 20,000 affiliated members in South Sound, said council president Bob Guenther.

One of the largest employers of those union workers is the state of Washington, he added.

Guenther said the picnic was a chance for people to network, get to know some local politicians and show their support for Lewis County, which has one of the highest unemployment rates and some of the lowest wages in the state.

“Seventy percent of the state’s average wage is not acceptable,” he said.

However, those numbers could change if businesses and labor unions continue to work together to develop a proposed industrial park in Lewis County, Guenther said.

“It’s going to be much like the Frederickson development outside Puyallup,” he said, adding that the park could bring thousands of new jobs to the area.

Safeway worker Tanya Murray of Aberdeen said she believes unions are beginning to rebound from the recession.

But the bargaining process isn’t easy, she said.

“The employers are trying to cut health care for everybody who works under 30 hours a week,” she said. “They don’t want any increases in wages. Pretty much everything is a takeaway.”

For Peter Lahmann of Centralia, the picnic was a chance to grill burgers and possibly recruit new people for the Northwest Laborers-Employers Training Trust Fund apprenticeship programs. It also was a time for the community to get together and celebrate organized labor’s legacy.

“The things our forefathers fought for — they won those battles people don’t have to fight for anymore,” he said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton

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