JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – For long-time union member Ken Osborne, Labor Day means a lot more than cruising on the lake and grilling out.

Osborne, now the interim president of the Upper East Tennessee Central Labor Council and vice president of his home union UA Local 538, said the holiday carries a different significance to union members than it does to most people.

“It’s to honor all workers, union, non-union, all workers,” Osborne said. “Those that have been injured on the job, especially those that have lost their lives on the job trying to provide for their families.”

Osborne said workers at his union have celebrated the holiday all weekend and are spending today at home with their families.

Despite laws like Right to Work that Osborne called unfriendly to unions, he said unions are doing well nationally and locally.

“We’re growing [at Local 538],” Osborne said. “We’re starting a new class of 16 apprentices this month. The IBEW, they’re growing. They’re taking new apprentices.”

As major labor movements like the SAG-AFTRA and the UPS worker strike enter the national conversation, Osborne said unions are gaining momentum.

“Businesses and corporate America have had to do something they haven’t had to do since before 1980 and that’s compete for labor,” Osborne said. “A lot of the workers today, I believe, are more aware of their worth.”

Osborne said while membership is growing locally, local unions are having trouble finding local work as companies balk at the higher cost of labor with union contracts.

“They don’t want to pay the money or the benefits, and it keeps everybody’s wages down,” Osborne said.

Osborne said he’s hopeful federal legislation like the CHIPS Act and Infrastructure Act can bring more work for unions.

Last November, Tennessee voters codified Right to Work, the doctrine that maintains employers cannot require union membership as a condition of employment, into the state constitution.

Right to Work has been law in Tennessee for decades, and Osborne said the change has not had much of an effect on union activities.

“We’ll deal with it,” Osborne said. “We’ve dealt with it for 70 years.”

Osborne said it will now be much more difficult to overturn Right to Work in the future, should a push to overturn it start.

On the region’s growing union membership, Osborne said many new members are young people.

He said more young people are coming into unions because of the benefits.

“They see a future,” Osborne said. “We offer them health insurance for them and their families from day one. Good wages. We offer them a defined benefit pension.”

Osborne said young veterans also take up a big chunk of new members. He said veterans like the structure and training unions offer.