BARBERTON, Ohio — Gray skies and a steady drizzle didn't keep people from marching through the streets and lining the sidewalks for the annual Barberton Labor Day Parade.
While Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer and is celebrated with street parties, cookouts and family gatherings, it's also a chance for the Magic City to step off the tradition that dates back decades.
"Barberton has always been a strong labor town and so it's meant a lot to the residents to throw a parade and honor those working to strengthen labor in our community," said Mayor William Judge.
The parade, which stretched about a mile, featured dancers, cheerleaders, floats, big trucks, other vehicles, politicians and their supporters.
Stephanie Coffield and her children were among the spectators on Wooster Road. Coffield's husband was in the parade as a member of Local 18 Operating Engineers.
"It's fun. It's getting the kids (here). This is how I was introduced to Labor Day and then eventually I figured out what it meant," Coffield said.
David Prentice, executive secretary treasurer of the Tri County Regional Labor Council, said his main focus on parade day is recognizing the role unions have played in the achievements of American workers.
"There's so much to thank labor for: our collective bargaining process, our 40-hour work week, health care, paid vacation. You can go down the list," Prentice said. "Right now, unions are enjoying about a 70% approval rating nationwide which is the highest it's been since 1965. People are recognizing that there is room for labor unions and labor unions are not necessarily bad."
An issue that has been repeatedly reported on during the pandemic is the worker shortage affecting businesses of all sizes. That includes skilled, semi-skilled and non-skilled workers.
"There's hundreds of jobs available. The building trades are looking for people. Most manufacturing is looking for people," Prentice said.
Prentice added that not having enough workers in many jobs is putting more pressure on those who are working.
"A lot of them are overworked especially in the postal service. They've been on 12 hours for over a year, six days a week," he said.
Congressman Tim Ryan, who is battling J.D. Vance for a U.S. Senate seat, also marched in the parade.
He pointed way back to changes in high school class options as one possible reason for the worker shortage.
"We got rid of shop class, told everybody they've got to go to college— some of the dumbest things we've ever done in the history of this country, and so now, we don't have the skilled workforce to build the Intel project or build the advanced manufacturing industry," Ryan said.
Given the struggles with finding employees, Judge and others at the Barberton event feel the parade honored workers from the past while also looking to the future.
"We're all trying to figure out why, but we're moving in a positive direction to get people to better employment," Judge said.