LaborFest returns after two-year hiatus

MADISON – Another event has returned to the capital city after taking a pause during the pandemic. On Monday afternoon, LaborFest ended its two-year hiatus, as hundreds showed up to enjoy live music, local food, and lawn games. However, organizers said that while fun and festive, the event holds a deeper meaning.

The past two years have been nothing short of brutal for so much of the world, and America’s workforce has been far from spared. Consolidated positions, wage cuts, and the transition to working from home have many workers saying they’ve hit their breaking point.

“I think we’ve seen now that there aren’t enough workers to go around,” said Ashley Komula, who attended LaborFest. “So now, workers are able to be in a place where they can say, ‘I want to be somewhere I’m respected.’ And I think people are leaving various professions because they’re not feeling respected.”

Komula works as a bilingual interventionist at Hawthorne Elementary in Madison. For her and her family, Labor Day is an especially important holiday.

“As a teacher, I really value being a part of a group that works together for the rights of workers and makes sure that workers have a living wage and respect,” Komula said.

Respect for employees is just one of the demands that many Southern Wisconsin labor unions believe should be a given. For local union supporters, the growing shift toward demanding worth in a workplace provides an opportunity to reach people in new ways and continue pushing for better working conditions across the state.

“A lot of the economic benefits are not the product of CEO handouts, they didn’t just fall from the sky,” said Robert Christl, the program director for Worker Justice Wisconsin. “They’re a direct consequence of labor organizing in the 30s and 40s and 50s, which raised the boat and made things better for a lot of people.”

For LaborFest attendees, this holiday is more than a history lesson or fun celebration; it’s a time to reconnect, regroup and renew their fight toward a better workforce across Wisconsin.

“It’s an opportunity to think about where the labor movement is going,” Christl said. “It [LaborFest] brings folks together in an overall festive environment, but it’s also a time to be mindful of the fact that this holiday is about struggling for a better world.”