Far fewer laborers turn out for parade

Photos: CHARLES FOX / Staff photographer
Photos: CHARLES FOX / Staff photographer
Posted: September 08, 2009

JACKIE JONES got her crew up at 7 a.m. yesterday for the annual Labor Day Parade and the Family Festival that followed at Penn's Landing.

Jones, 56, of Norristown, is a laborer with Local 135 in the building trades.

"I've laid blacktop, used a jackhammer, removed asbestos; I've done just about everything," the grandmother and great-grandmother said after the parade reached Penn's Landing.

She rode on a parade float with four grandchildren - TaDarrell Jones, 14; Jamal Taylor 16; Sydni Middleton, 11; Hezekiah Haley, 11; and a great-grandchild, Darnell Beattie, 5.

Asked what he knew about labor unions, TaDarrell, who started ninth grade in Norristown last week, had a quick response: "They built America."

At least 2,500 people took part in yesterday's 22nd annual Tri-State Labor Day Parade, said Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO.

It started at the Sheet Metal Workers union hall, on Columbus Boulevard at Washington Avenue, and wound up at the Great Plaza at Penn's Landing.

Looking around at the crowd dressed in a variety of union T-shirts, Eiding said that the numbers at the family festival were "a little down" yesterday compared with last year's. Eiding said that about 8,000 to 10,000 people came out for a day of music, food and fun.

This year, Eiding said, some union members have lost jobs and some union locals didn't have the money to participate in the festival (union members and their families didn't have to pay the $5 entrance fee).

But the families who did gather got free refreshments, a live band and drill-team performances. Children bounced on a trampolinelike contraption or had their faces painted.

George Bowman, 37, a steamfitter from Chester, brought his son Joshua, 8, and Joshua's friend Omar, 7.

Bowman said that he has been a union worker for 20 years, installing heating and air-conditioning and processing pipes in nuclear facilities after trade school.

"A lot of people don't know that the union is about education," Bowman said, adding that his union, Local 420, is helping him earn a college degree in construction management at Drexel University.

Sue Rosenthal, a retired Philadelphia schoolteacher, wore her red Philadelphia Federation of Teachers T-shirt and carried a large poster urging "Health Care Reform Now."

Even though she's no longer working, Rosenthal said, "I'm a very, very proud union member. I wouldn't miss the parade for anything."

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