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East Bay unions celebrate family and Labor in Alameda

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East Bay unions know how to put on a great Labor Day picnic. Despite all the weighty issues facing us during the weirdest election season ever, the biggest controversy at Alameda Point Park on Monday was whether it’s appropriate to put mayonnaise on a hot dog.

We went with the mustard.

There were no speeches when I was there, other than a brief welcome from the band, followed by a Jimi Hendrix-style version of the national anthem. Nobody knelt in protest. Nobody even said anything about making America great again.

There were some Bernie supporters, still proclaiming allegiance, but if they indulged in any grumbling about Hillary, or what’s his name, it was decidedly low-key. A few labor-backed candidates for local offices handed out pamphlets. Senator Barbara Boxer, nearing retirement after a glorious career holding up the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in Washington, strolled around with her husband, chatting amiably.

But the whole point of this picnic was to set aside the politics and celebrate solidarity.

“We don’t do speeches,” said Richard Fierro of Teamsters Local 70, one of the picnic organizers. “It’s all about the working family.”

There were kids in face paint, like 4-year-old Harper Hettich, named after the author Harper Lee by union parents, Matt and Leslie. Both are flight attendants for Southwest who met on the job.

“The best thing about a union,” Matt said, “is you can have a voice at work.”

Volunteers raised money for the Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond, marveling at the toughness of 94-year-old Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest full-time national park ranger. She was beaten and robbed in her home on June 27, and was back on the job three weeks later. She plans to celebrate her 95th in Washington, maybe with the director of the Park Service.

René Castillo, secretary-treasurer of bakers Local 125, and his wife, Marie, helped hand out Red Vines, which are union-made in the East Bay. He’s got a problem these days with Nabisco, for moving some bakery workers’ jobs to Mexico, a point he has in common with what’s his name.

But that presidential candidate, as far as Castillo is concerned, doesn’t really mean it when he says he’s not eating Oreo cookies.

“He’s been talking about it, but we’re not seeing any action,” Castillo said. “I don’t think he’s sincere.”

That was about as political as it got Monday. In fact, I was sorry I brought it up.

People wanted to talk about how grateful they were to be in a union, whatever the latest disaster, or disaster waiting to happen.

Alameda’s own Don Lattin, my friend and former Chronicle colleague, now a freelance member of the Guild and a writer of books, said he felt “blessed” — his word, chosen not only because Don specializes in religion writing.

Anybody who worked in the newspaper business when we did, Lattin said, “was really lucky.”

The ones who came before us did all the heavy lifting, organized everything and endured the great battles that created The Newspaper Guild. Then they handed it all – all the great contracts – to us. We had decent pensions, almost-free health care, a living wage and raises every year.

Some of that remains in our contracts today, some of it doesn’t. Some employers have figured it out, and some haven’t. So now, years after the Guild dropped the “newspaper” word from our name, our industry trade group is about to do the same.

Yes, we’ve had more than our share of trouble. So what? We did our best to fight our generation’s battles, we thank those who fought before us, and we thank those who will fight on.

Let’s have a nice bit of union-made French’s mustard on our hot dogs, and sit in the Alameda sun, and watch the kids run around in face paint. Who cares about what’s his name?

Carl Hall

Carl Hall

Carl Hall is the executive officer of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA Local 39521.

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