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GEDDES — Every Labor Day for the past 20 years, Cary Eldridge has attended the New York State Fair. But it's not for the Dollar Day promotions, he said. It's for something he can't put a price on: freedom. 

Every year, Eldridge joins hundreds of others in the annual Labor Day parade at the fair. A member of United Steel Workers Local 6989 in Auburn, Eldridge marches alongside working men and women to support unions in central New York. 

This year was no different. 

"We come every year to maintain tradition," he said. "Without organized labor we wouldn't have the rights that we have today. So we come out to walk in the parade to demonstrate that and educate the rest of society that vacations, weekends, even healthcare all stem from organized labor." 

On Monday morning, dozens of men, women and children donned matching shirts and held signs that read "Union Proud," and as the group made its way to Chevy Court, chants of "Keep it made in the USA" and "We are the union" rang out. 

Like Eldridge, Loretta Donlon has been coming to the fair's parade for years. The president of the retiree council for the New York State United Teachers, Donlon said she marches to ensure that people have a dignified retirement for generations to come. 

"It's a good time to come out, gather our spirits and collective thoughts and show the rest of this wonderful state that we're strong," she said. "We're here to show everyone the union power in central New York." 

But Donlon and other marchers said there was an extra push to parade this year, as New Yorkers prepare to vote on a constitutional convention in the fall. Such a convention would allow legislators to amend the state's constitution, something many union members are against. 

"The constitutional convention being opened up would be a massive money sucker and a way for politicians to earn more money," said Megan Root, president of the Syracuse Teacher's Association. "It could ultimately damage the good work that we've done as unions." 

"Right now it's like a losing battle," United Steel Workers member Ray Trudell added. "We're going backward instead of forward. ... (Unions) gave us freedom that generations never had before and we're out here to honor that and to keep fighting so the generations following us don't lose everything." 

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Staff writer Megan Blarr can be reached at (315) 282-2282 or megan.blarr@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @CitizenBlarr. 

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