LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Thousands packed the Louisville Zoo on Monday to celebrate Labor Day at the 18th annual picnic sponsored by the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council.

The party came during a year when there has not been much to celebrate for big labor. But despite political setbacks such as the new right-to-work law, organized labor is optimistic it will remain a major force.

Dale Jackson, who brought his 1966 Cadillac Deville convertible to Monday's Louisville United Labor Picnic, works at the Ford truck plant in Louisville and said he's a proud member of the Auto Workers Union.

“I'm in an excellent situation at Ford, and the union's working to make it even better," he said. "So I love it."

But Jackson admits he concerned about right to work, which became law earlier this year. It does away with mandatory union membership and dues.

“I just hope that we stand tall and stay focused and don't let anything come in to break up the union,” he said.

Despite the political setbacks, leaders said organized labor is still going strong. They expected a record crowd at the picnic.

“It's an opportunity for us to thank one another for what we do,” said Central Labor Council President Todd Dunn.

Dunn said he has not seen major negative effects from right to work so far.

“For the most part, the ones that have had agreements, they've had little or no change,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the new law means unions must work harder to convince workers of the benefits of being organized. He said he continues to get new calls from workers interested in organizing.

“That means one thing: that the message is getting out, and they're seeing what we can do when we're together and unified,” Dunn said.

And with possible changes coming to health care and public pensions, Dunn said labor unions are more relevant than ever.

“We're not going anywhere," he said. "We're going to stay, we're going to lead, and we're going to continue to do what we do. And that's represent our membership."

Jackson compares the labor struggle to his 1966 Cadillac: to keep it going strong takes time, money and persistence.

“You have to keep working," he said. "You never let up, and you never get at ease.”

Gov. Matt Bevin points to the record $6 billion in business investment so far this year as a sign that right to work is working. A lawsuit challenging the law filed by the AFL-CIO and Teamsters Local 89 is still making its way through the courts.

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