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‘It’s everything I’ve got’: Longtime organizer reflects on Labor Day

Organizers reflect on Labor Day

ANDERSON, Ind. (WISH) — A longtime labor organizer on Monday said unions are what allowed him to make a good wage in a safe environment.

On a humid Labor Day morning, as UAW members, retirees, and their families gathered for the annual Labor Day picnic at Anderson’s UAW hall, Denny Cheshier said he can still remember helping to unionize a grocery store where he worked when he was 14.

“We had this manager, he was always wanting us to do more,” he said. “We had a contact with the (Retail Clerks International Union, forerunner of the United Food and Commercial Workers), so I went and talked to the guys, and we got the union in, and they protested, and so we had three National Labor Relations Board elections in a row, and we won all three of them.”

Standing next to his 1963 Corvette split rear-window coupe, Cheshier, now 81, said he credits everything he now has, including the car, to unions. He said he worked several jobs, all unionized, at the Pittman-Moore plant in Zionsville and GM’s facilities in Anderson until he retired. He remained active in organized labor all the while, at one point, serving as a UAW regional chair. He has chaired UAW Local 662 Retirees since 2010.

“Working the hours, all the benefits, was how I acquired those,” he said. “Purchased, maintained, and enjoyed because of union money at a union job.”

A first-of-its-kind report by the Department of the Treasury issued at the end of August said unionized workers earn about 10-15% more on average than equivalent non-union workers. Pay gaps for women and workers of color are typically narrower.

The report also found union members are significantly more likely to be offered retirement benefits, medical benefits, and life insurance and are more likely to participate in all three. Unionized workers also vote in elections 12% more often. About 10% of the nation’s workforce is currently unionized, down from a peak of a third in the 1950s.

None of those findings came as any surprise to Cheshier or others attending the picnic. He said he’s encouraged by recent developments, such as the deal between the Teamsters and UPS and recent unionizations at Starbucks stores.

“The climate is more inclined to organized labor than it’s been for several decades,” he said.

Asked what Labor Day means to him, Cheshier replied, “It’s everything I’ve got.”