Despite 85-degree heat, Walter Lukaszewicz, 79, of Hamburg, stood in the sun Monday on Abbott Road to show his support for the hundreds of people who marched in the Labor Day Parade in South Buffalo.
"Labor Day is all about workers, the future, a better tomorrow," he said.
Decked out in a United Auto Workers T-shirt and hat, the Ford retiree, who worked for 37 years in the Hamburg plant, said he owes his well-being to benefits the union provided, and he worries about the current generation of workers who largely don't have union representation.
"Nowadays, it seems like there's an assault on organized labor and working people," said David Chudy, vice chairman of the Western New York Working Families Party and local president of the Public Employees Federation.
That feeling of being under attack was shared among the hundreds of painters, health care workers, truckers, teachers, letter carriers, firefighters and other unionized workers who marched from the Buffalo Irish Center to Cazenovia Park.
"Labor is often portrayed as a special-interest group, but we're working people in the community. We're teachers, nurses, construction workers," said Franchelle Hart, a spokeswoman for Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, United Health Care Workers East. "We're your family and neighbors."
It has been a contentious period for labor unions.
In Wisconsin, labor suffered a major blow last year with the passage of the "budget repair bill."
Locally, teachers facing the state's tax cap law have lost jobs and made concessions, while the state passed a bill cutting the pensions of new state and local public workers. And labor issues continue to be a divisive issue as the November elections near.
Amid Irish dancers, marching bands and Democratic politicians, workers from dozens of chapters of local unions walked together tossing candy and carrying signs.
Signs held by marchers read, "Stop the War on Workers," "Kids, not cuts," "We are the 99 percent," "Support our troops," and "Workers believe in the right to full employment and a living wage."
Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, served as parade grand marshal.
"Both of my parents were proud union members. That gave me financial stability, health care, eye care for my sisters, visits to the dentist and a vacation to Allegany State Park once a year," Ryan said.
With Lee Greenwood's patriotic anthem, "God Bless the USA," blaring from the speakers of their Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Teamsters union members handed out free copies of a children's book called "No Ordinary Horses," which tells the story of the union.
"A big problem we have is the working poor," said George Harrigan of Joint Council 46, which represents 14,000 Teamsters from Rochester to Buffalo. "There are people working 50-plus hours a week, and they can't get by."
Workers marched in favor of a living wage, public services, Social Security, job creation and reform of industrial development agencies, as well as to encourage people to vote.