Missoula labor organizers encourage unionization on Labor Day


MISSOULA, Mont. - All across the state Monday Montanans celebrated Labor Day.

In Missoula dozens of residents and local union leaders celebrated with live music, food and pro-labor speakers.

We talked with union leaders who tell us it's important to remember how critical labor unions have been, and they point to last week's fast food strikes as a reminder of what unions can do for workers.

Economists say paying fast food workers $15 an hour would hurt small business but Mark Anderlik, president of the Missoula Area Central Labor Council, tells us he thinks fast food strikers should aim to earn $15 an hour.  

"The minimum wage in the 1960s, when our economy was booming, if it kept up with inflation, would be pretty close to $15 an hour today," Anderlik says.  "There are so many people who work full-time and make a low wage and they cannot pay their own bills, they cannot support themselves and that's wrong and it's actually hurting the economy."

NBC Montana caught up with Lieutenant Governor John Walsh, who says he's proud to see so many people come out to celebrate Labor Day.  

"Today is a great day around the country for labor organizations to come together and celebrate with their members and organizations and to thank them for what they have done for our workers and not only here in Montana but around the country," says Walsh.  "When you take a look at wages and safety, and work place safety, a lot of that has improved because of our labor organizations."

Anderlik tells us the goal in organizing Monday's event was to inform people on how they can rally together to make a change.  

"One thing we take away is we must organize and to organize is not sort of rearranging your stuff at home it means you're able to articulate what it is you want than to find other people who have a similar need," he says.  "You get together and you make a plan to go fix that."

Anderlik says if the average American wants to earn a higher wage they need to unionize.  He tells us it's not just about local folks rallying together, but a nation of laborers rallying together.

"Average people need to get together and it's not going to be easy and it's not going to be quick, but that is the only way that things are going to change for the better." says Anderlik.

"If the average worker in Montana doesn't have money in his pocket to buy groceries and to put clothes on his children's backs then the large corporations won't have demand," Walsh says.  "I'm a really strong believer in the middle class and the workforce and we need to do everything we can to continue to improve their benefits and wages."

As for the fast food workers, Anderlik says he believes companies can afford to give workers a higher wage.

"To say that corporations can't afford this while they're making billions of dollars in profit," he says.  "There is going to come a day when people are going to get sick and tired of this stuff and they're not going to have any trust or support for corporations."

For more information about union groups in western Montana or to find a labor union, click here.

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