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Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Union workers in Missoula gathered to relax and enjoy a holiday on Monday – and, as per tradition, to hear from a few like-minded politicians.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester and Lt. Gov. Angela McLean were two of the speakers at the annual Labor Day picnic in Bonner Park, hosted by the Missoula Area Central Labor Council.

When McLean got in front of the crowd of around 150, she praised Montana for having created 12,000 new jobs since the start of the year.

“It’s a remarkable day to live in and work in the state of Montana, brothers and sisters,” she said.

She stressed the importance of making sure that political candidates who back labor causes are elected in November, specifically citing Amanda Curtis, the Democratic candidate for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat. Curtis is running against Republican Rep. Steve Daines.

McLean said Montana is surrounded by right-to-work states, and doesn’t want to end up looking like them.

“I will stand against the tallest of the tall and the richest of the rich,” she told the crowd.

Tester used his time on stage to thank all of the people in the long history of the union movement who fought for fair labor standards, weekends, and the 40-hour work week.

“The teachers, the postmen and women, the sheet metal workers. They touch our lives every day and they make this world a better place,” he said.

The senator warned the crowd that there are those “who don’t want to see a vibrant middle class.” Like McLean, he stressed the need to make sure that labor-friendly candidates get elected into the Montana Legislature and to the nation’s capital.

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Before his short speech, Tester also voiced his support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that will come before the U.S. Senate later this month. The bill would seek to close the wage gap between men and women. He said the decision to support the measure was a matter of “common sense.”

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The senator and lieutenant governor were at a similar picnic in Butte earlier in the day. Tester said afterward, he was heading back home to Big Sandy before returning to Washington, D.C., next week.

Chad Bishop, organizer for the Missoula Area Central Labor Council, said that it has put on the picnic for more than 20 years. He spent the afternoon handing out brochures with a list of the state candidates who have gone through Montana AFL-CIO’s vetting process and earned the union organization’s endorsements.

Apart from the speakers, one of the major reasons for having the picnic is making a push to register people to vote.

“That’s the first step to getting people active politically,” Bishop said.

The council was also handing out information on some of its labor assistance programs, including Good Jobs Missoula, which Bishop said is designed to provide an organized platform for low wage, non-unionized food service workers in town.

Part of the program is an effort to raise awareness about these workers’ lifestyles through an initiative called Photo Voice. The labor council is providing cameras and training to food service workers, then asking them to document their struggles through photography. The photos will be part of a presentation given to the state Legislature when the 2015 session convenes in January.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.