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Photos by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Helen Moreno, of Ossian, stands in the hot dog line Monday afternoon at the Labor Day picnic.

Picnic reminds of the value of labor

John Caswell, back, and Jennifer Macwatters enjoy the sunshine at the annual Labor Day picnic Monday afternoon at Headwaters Park.
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Elizabeth Thomson, 5, sits on her father Shawn Thomson’s shoulders as they stand in the line for chili.

Frank Bromley said he remembers when he was 8 years old and stood on a picket line with his grandfather.

Those early memories played a part in Bromley’s joining the union.

A second-shift metal finisher for General Motors, Bromley also is a member of the United Auto Workers Local 2209.

He helped cook hot dogs Monday during the annual Labor Day picnic at Headwaters Park sponsored by the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

“Labor is really taking it on the chin,” Bromley said. “This brings everybody together. It’s a great time.”

The free picnic started in 1982 and costs about $14,000, which is covered by donations from various local unions and businesses.

This year’s event featured chili, hot dogs, chips, ice cream, and Mexican and Burmese food. The leftover food was donated to a local food bank.

Besides the food, the event featured children’s games, bingo and live music.

Dick Merren has been chairman of the Community Action Program Council for Allen, Adams and Wells counties for 30 years.

Merren, 82, retired from International Harvester Co.’s machine shop in 1986, and his love for organized labor is what pushed him to start Fort Wayne’s annual Labor Day picnic in 1981. The event now draws more than 5,000 people a year.

“One reason for the picnic is to kind of refresh in people’s minds what labor is all about,” Merren said. “It’s much more important today because labor today is being used as a scapegoat.

They’re blaming us for everything.”

President Obama was in Toledo on Monday speaking to UAW and United Steelworkers members and touted his decision to rescue automakers General Motors and Chrysler in 2009, a move Republican challenger Mitt Romney opposed.

“If America had thrown in the towel like that, GM and Chrysler wouldn’t exist today,” Obama said, according to The Associated Press. “The suppliers and the distributors that get their business from these companies would have died off, too. Then even Ford could have gone down as well.”

Romney relaxed at his lakeside home in New Hampshire with his family and took a midmorning boat ride, the AP reported.

In a statement emailed to reporters before he left his house, the businessman-turned-political candidate said:

“For far too many Americans, today is another day of worrying when their next paycheck will come.”

While there were many local candidates stumping at the Headwaters Park picnic, Merren said that it’s not about Democrats or Republicans.

“We’re not tied to one party; we’re tied to issues,” he said.

And with that, Merren got up to go call the bingo numbers for his 30th consecutive year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.