Labor Day Parade 2023 - WOS Float

GRANITE CITY — Union workers and supporters came out for the annual Granite City Labor Day Parade on Monday, but the numbers of both participants and spectators were down from pre-COVID numbers.

The annual parade, sponsored by the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, was followed by a picnic for union members and supporters at Wilson Park.

Near the start of the parade Zorobabel Collins, of Granite City, was watching with his grandchildren. A member of USW Local 1899, he works at US Steel/Granite City Works.

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He said he wanted to show his support for the union, but someone had to watch the children.

“For them, it’s all about the candy,” he said.

As large groups of steelworkers walked by, some catcalled Collins telling him to start walking. He laughed and had several short conversations with several co-workers as they passed.

A short distance away Carol Bryant, of Granite City, was sitting at one of the tables at the Downtown Diner which was closed for the day.

“It’s a holiday; we need to see the parade and support the Granite City Steel people,” she said. “It’s fun, and you might see some people you haven’t seen in a long time.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day is “an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers. The holiday is rooted in the late nineteenth century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers have made to America’s strength, prosperity, and well-being.”

Those include ending widespread child labor and instituting a standard 40-hour work week.

The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City in 1882. By 1894, about half the states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation marking the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

“It is to remember our history, what we fought for to have this day,” said parade chairman Michael Fults.

He noted unions still play a major role in Madison County, especially in the Granite City area.

Although a long-standing tradition, the parade was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19. Attendance and participation also were down last year from pre-COVID numbers.

“It’s been up, it’s been down; this year it’s down,” Fults said.

In addition to smaller crowds, the parade itself was shorter. In pre-COVID years it would normally take 45 minutes to an hour for the parade to pass; this year it took about 20 minutes.

Notably absent were politicians. State Rep. Katie Stuart and Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn were the only two elected officials spotted in the parade. Both are Democrats.

Nonn said part of that is because of the advances the Republican Party has made countywide. The parade traditionally has a strong pro-Democrat base.

“We are in the minority now; they are the majority in the county board,” Nonn said.

Nonn has announced his planned retirement after the next election in 2024. So far Maj. Nick Novacich with the Granite City Police Department has declared as the Republican candidate; no Democrats have come forward yet for that or any other county-level races.

Petition circulation for the March primary was scheduled to begin Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Nonn, who said he plans to stay out of the race at this time, was marching with the United Steelworkers on Monday.

“I’m just here because I support labor,” he said. “They’ve supported me, and my whole family has been pro-labor.”

Stuart was serving as parade marshal.

“Labor is the backbone of our country, so it’s real important to come out and support,” she said. “I just wish I could clone myself and get to all the parades around the area. But since I represent a good portion of Granite City, I always come here.

“I think it’s a great community event,” she added.

When lawmakers return to Springfield for the veto session, she said, one of the big issues will be legislation lifting the moratorium on nuclear facilities.

“We need to lift that so we can start to build clean energy sites,” she said. “I’m old enough to understand the trepidation about it. But it’s not Chernobyl or Three-Mile Island.

"That’s jobs, and while we’re saving our environment,” she said.

Stuart confirmed she is running for a third term and said she hopes more candidates start to declare themselves.

“We should be proud to be Democrats, proud to stand for working people,” she said.

Steelworkers, carpenters and laborers were among major unions represented at Monday's parade.

Matthew Marshall, a member of Laborer’s Local 397 in Edwardsville and Granite City, was walking in the parade for the first time.

“I decided it was a beautiful day and I needed to be more proactive in my union hall,” he said, adding he was walking with his brother. “We decided to do this together.”

Matt Chase of Carpenters Local 664 said it is important to get out and represent labor.

“Let everybody know the carpenters’ are here and part of local history,” he said.

While most groups gave out candy or the occasional flying disc, the carpenters had something special: 30 rocking horses built by apprentices and retired carpenters.

“The guys that are walking, if they see a young kid who would appreciate them, they pass them out,” he said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”

Len Davis, a member of USW 1899 who has worked at National Lead for 44 years, said he walks every year.

“To let people know we need solidarity, and we should work together to have a better way of life,” he said. “I walk every year.”

Chris Heintz, of Troy, who has worked at US Steel/Granite City Works for 27 years, also walked in the parade and brought his grandson, 5-year-old William Bohnenstiehl of Marine.

It was his first parade.

“Normally we have a couple hundred march with us,” said Dan Simmons, president of USW Local 1899. “Obviously it’s our day to recognize labor and all the men and women who work in industry. It’s not a white-collar holiday; it’s a blue-collar holiday.”

Part of the emphasis on the steelworkers’ participation in Monday's parade is ongoing concerns in the industry – in the case of U.S. Steel/Granite City Works, the potential sale of part of the operations; and also recent overtures to purchase the entire company.

“It’s still up in the air,” Simmons said. “Who blinks first, it looks like.”