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Longtime organizer looks back on Labor Day



Anderson, Indiana – An experienced labor activist claimed on Monday that unions were the reason he could earn a solid living in a secure setting.

Denny Cheshier recalled helping to unionize a grocery shop he worked at when he was 14 when UAW members, retirees, and their families gathered for the annual Labor Day picnic at Anderson’s UAW hall on a steamy Labor Day morning.

“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.”

Cheshier, 81, who was standing next to his 1963 Corvette split rear-window coupe, said he attributes all he has to unions, including the automobile. He said that up until his retirement, he held a number of unions jobs at the Pittman-Moore plant in Zionsville and the GM plants in Anderson. At one point, he held the position of UAW regional chair while continuing to be engaged in organized labor. Since 2010, he has presided over UAW Local 662 Retirees.

“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.”

According to a groundbreaking analysis from the Department of the Treasury released at the end of August, unionized workers make between 10% and 15% more than comparable non-union workers. Pay disparities between workers of race and women are often less. The study also discovered that union members are substantially more likely to be offered retirement benefits, medical benefits, and life insurance, and they are also significantly more likely to take advantage of all three. Additionally, 12% more unionized workers cast ballots in elections. Currently, only 10% of the workforce in the country is unionized, down from a peak of 33% in the 1950s.

None of those discoveries surprised Cheshier or anybody else at the lunch. Recent events, such as the agreement between the Teamsters and UPS and the recent unionizations at Starbucks locations, he claimed, have given him hope.

“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.”


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