Downtown Milwaukee plays host to Labor Day rally Monday

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- It is no longer formal, but a Labor Day rally in Milwaukee on Monday, September 2nd was at a fever pitch, with separate groups marching from the north to the south and meeting in downtown Milwaukee to declare that Wisconsin unions are far from dead.

The biggest target of the rally was Act 10, the state legislation that all but eliminated the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions.

However, there were three major components of the march: restoring collective bargaining, higher wages for low-income workers and immigration reform.

There was no LaborFest this year, but organizers of Monday's march say the rally symbolizes the start of a new chapter in Wisconsin's labor history.

"It's caused a re-birth of labor, is what's happened. People have gone back to their roots. People have an understanding of what solidarity is," Joseph "Pepe" Oulahan, with Machinists Lodge 66 said.

Two large groups steamed their way into Zeidler Park on Monday. Once there, they got even louder.

Bob Peterson, the president of Milwaukee's Teachers Union, says Act 10 has forced good, veteran teachers into retirement.

"Our inability to bargain about hardly anything, they felt they couldn't risk things they spent their lifetime accruing, certain benefits, and felt they had to leave," Peterson said.

The labor activists were joined by dozens of Latinos calling for immigration reform -- specifically, a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

"It's a statement that we all have a stake in this new labor movement where we all have to link our struggles together if we're gonna defend the middle class in the United States," Christine Neumann-Ortiz with Voces de la Frontera said.

On top of that, the marchers also demanded higher wages for low-income workers.

Although union leaders acknowledge their losses in the wake of Act 10, they insist they'll be fine.

"It's been difficult, but if you know anything about labor history, difficulty is our business," Oulahan said.

Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen told the crowd the Milwaukee County Board will take up a living wage ordinance this Fall. He says Board members are still ironing out specifics, but says they want to make sure no full-time workers are making less than the federal poverty level, which for a family of four, is $23,500 a year.