Despite pains, LaborFest goes on

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Sunday, September 6, 2009
— Janet Cook surveyed the LaborFest grounds Saturday afternoon around 4 p.m.

“This is one of our better Saturday startups,” said the first vice president of the LaborFest committee.

Glorious weather, families staying close to home, free admission and cheap games for kids all make for good attendance, said Cook, who has been with LaborFest since it began in 1991.

It’s a different year than most, of course, with unemployment running high and southern Wisconsin still reeling from the loss of longtime employers.

“Labor makes our country work, and labor needs jobs again, so we’ve got to get our country going,” said Cook, who got down-sized out of a job at Woodbridge Corp in Brodhead five years ago after 27 years on the job.

“It’s a sad situation we’re in now. Way too many jobs have been lost. Family-supporting jobs,” Cook said. “Minimum wage doesn’t support a family.”

LaborFest itself is going strong, thanks to the many community volunteers and local businesses that keep on giving, said fest committee president Bert Brookens.

The donor board at the fest reads like a who’s who of local business and unions.

Brookens said the fest lost volunteers who have taken jobs elsewhere, but for every loss, volunteers appeared to fill the gaps.

“We still have that support. If it wasn’t for some of the businesses in town we wouldn’t be able to keep this going,” Brookens aid.

“Everybody is labor,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re management or any other job.”

It’s been a tough year for labor, fest-goers agreed.

“It is sad, but you have to be hopeful,” said Linda Barron of Janesville, who works for First American Credit Union.

Janesville’s a great place to live, housing is affordable, and schools are great, she added, so the town has a lot to offer.

Mark Thompson, who worked for 11 years at GM before taking a buyout in 2006, had friends and family at the GM plant.

“It’s tough to see all the people you grew up with, all your family, go through this,” Thompson said.

Thompson is now an investment adviser.

“Janesville needs to do all it can to get businesses back to Janesville, to get working-class individuals into jobs,” he said.

The new hospital will help, Thompson said, and workers need to re-train to land those family-supporting jobs.

Evan Kilgore of Beloit, who has been without work for a year, is keeping hope alive.

Kilgore was working at the fest with a number of other volunteers through Community Action’s Fatherhood program.

Kilgore said getting by and supporting his 6-year-old son isn’t easy. He takes help where he can get it.

“I’m hopeful,” Kilgore said of his job prospects. “You have to be hopeful, or else nothing’s going to come to you, I guess.”

Jennifer Johnson of Janesville has been without a job since March and said she’s been everywhere looking for work. She even went through the phone book, sending resumes.

“There’s nothing out there,” Johnson said.

Johnson counts herself lucky, however, because her husband, Roland, has a job at Goex in Janesville. “I’ll find something sooner or later,” she said.

So in the year of the worst recession since World War II, local laborers are hoping for better days ahead.

And LaborFest keeps on keeping on.

“I can remember when they were saying ‘I wonder if LaborFest going to last 10 years,’ said Barb Barr, a retiree. “And it certainly has.”

LaborFest continues today and Monday on the UAW Local 95 grounds, 1795 Lafayette St. The parade starts at 1 p.m. Monday in downtown Janesville.

Last updated: 11:26 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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