It’s a week before the Labor Day holiday, and Kay Falconbridge is busy pouring drinks and serving late lunches at Missoula’s Union Club. A handful of union members watch news of Katrina silently playing out on CNN as Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” provides an ironic jukebox soundtrack. Joe Yaqui, a member of the Carpenters Union Local 28, is one of those gazing up at the muted screen. Yaqui, who stopped in at the historic Labor Temple to pay his union dues, shares some of his thoughts on the labor movement and the meaning of Labor Day:
“Labor Day is a celebration of the fact that a man gets an honest wage for an honest day’s work,” Yaqui says over French fries and a pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon. “It means kids are no longer working in mines for pennies a day. Things have changed in this country because of the labor movement.”
To many Montanans, Labor Day is the summer’s last hurrah. They flock to their favorite campgrounds and boat launches with little consideration for the meaning of the holiday. But to Yaqui, Labor Day is more than a three-day excuse to party.
“[On Labor Day] I plan to be grateful that I’m alive and able to work,” says Yaqui. “Because if I was dead, I wouldn’t be working and I would be just another person who isn’t contributing to society, contributing to the welfare of America.”
The labor movement could be stronger in Western Montana, he says, but he’s grateful for the brotherhood of the carpenter’s union.
“[Being a member of the union] means that you have someone that has your back. It means you aren’t out there by yourself. Someone is there helping to protect your family and your rights,” says Yaqui.
Falconbridge, a member of the local bartender’s union for six years, says she’s happy to be a part of the labor movement as well.
“I have a good paying job,” she says. “I’ve got insurance and I’ve got an IRA. I’m happy. I’m a bartender.”