Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009 | 9:22 p.m.
Thousands of union members and their families rallied in downtown Las Vegas Thursday to share their concerns about the slumping economy and job growth and to stress the importance of using local union labor.
Union leaders and politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, mingled with the crowd at the pre-Labor Day event billed as a celebration of Nevada workers.
Reid, among the speakers, drew screams of approval when he said, “When in doubt, organize” and quoted the Woody Guthrie song “Union Maid,” saying, “I’m not scared, I’m sticking with union.”
Reid later called for a moment of silence in honor of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died Aug. 25 after a battle with brain cancer.
The event, which took place Thursday afternoon at the Helldorado Rodeo site, took on a festival-like atmosphere with free snow cones, pony rides, hot dogs and a giant inflatable slide. Those in the crowd wore union T-shirts and waved signs with phrases such as “Union work = Quality Labor” and “Nevada for Nevada Families.”
Randy Soltero, 47, of the sheet metal workers union, said he was impressed by the turnout. “What’s most important is you don’t just see a bunch of rank-and-file members here, you see the rank-and-file members with their spouses and their children here,” he said. “That’s really what this whole event is about, is celebrating Nevada working families.”
Soltero, who said at least a quarter of union workers are without jobs, said working with the City Council and County Commission is the first step to creating more jobs. One of the points of the rally was to emphasize the importance of using union labor in public and public-private partnership projects.
Bill Brouwer, 58, a member of the plumbers, pipe-fitters, and heating and air-conditioning union, is among those who are unemployed.
“We can’t have contractors outbidding the local unions at a lower price and then bringing in non-union workers,” Brouwer said. “Once the unions go, the rest of this will go, so it's important we remain union and stay strong.”
While he isn’t working , Brouwer said, he is taking classes and learning new trades. Beyond that, he’s looking for a break in the economy.
“Hopefully at the beginning of the year, it will turn around for us. All we can do is hope for the best,” Brouwer said.