I traveled to Paducah this past week to the West Kentucky Labor Council to see and hear for myself what has led to the resurgence of organized labor in West Kentucky. As I said after the November elections, I had not been overly impressed with the Unions for many years because of the lack of their membership turnout in elections the past 20 years. In November, the Union influence was heard loud and clear across the First Congressional District. Labor rose to the occasion and made a big difference.
My questions have been why now? and was this a one time fluke? or is Labor really organized and ready to fight for the working men and woman of Western Kentucky on a consistant basis? I think part of that question was answered last Tuesday night when labor again showed up at the polls in numbers to give Will Coursey a huge victory in the Special Election to fill J.R. Gray's House Seat.
"The Voice of Labor is Being Heard by More People"
I admit that I have been bias in my opinions of Labor for many years. Growing up and participating in politics in the Southern Pennyrile has not provided much of an opportunity over the years to associate with Labor leaders on a regular basis. I was a Teamster for a while in the 90's and my Father's family were and still Union leaders in Cleveland, Ohio. I felt pretty let down when Tom Barlow was defeated and I think that really left a bad taste in my mouth when Tom had dedicated so many staff positions to Labor Folks.
I appreciate the opportunity that was given to me to meet and discuss issues with the members. Everyone was gracious and very hospitable. I met Larry Johnson upon arrival who explained to me how the meetings were conducted. Larry also mentioned that there was a great deal of concern for George Wiggins who was in the hospital. A life long member, Wiggins, is the Father of Council President Jeff Wiggins.
I met with Jeff Wiggins who is the President of the West Kentucky AFL-CIO Labor Council (Zone 1) and he afforded me the opportunity to ask a few questions. I asked Jeff what made this past General Election any different from past elections and how did one explain the large Union influence. Jeff said that Union issues were starting to resonate with voters and the Union effort was as organized as he had ever seen it. "We sent letters, we walked the districts and for the first time everyone was accountable for what they were doing." Jeff pointed to Will Coursey's election as a big achievement. "Will Coursey's Mother is a Steel Worker," stated Jeff proudly.
"The Voice of Labor is Being Heard by More People"
Benny Adair who is Vice-President is also KSCM President and the Directing Business Representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. I asked Benny the same questions and Benny stated regarding the recent Union success "the voice of Labor is being heard by more people." Feeling that workers are starting to wake up to the reality of the economy and the present atmosphere in which American workers are having to deal with Adair said, "Non-Union employees are losing everyday and there is a culture of corporate greed."
I would be remiss if I did not take the time to remember W.C. Young (Pictured above with Gov. Julian Carroll). I worked with W.C. on Barlow's staff and he was a fine gentleman. Fighting a life-time of injustice and working to further the cause of Civil Rights in Western Kentucky as well as Africa, W.C. Young blazed a trail helping those who could not help themselves. I am embarrassed to say that I did not know that one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a Union Member is the W.C. Young Award. I have included a picture of Paducah City Commissioner Robert Coleman who is not only a past recipient of the award but also a cousin to W.C. Young. Commisioner Coleman stated at the meeting that it was the "Blood, Sweat and Tears of the Unions that made the Middle Class in America."
A large sign hung on the wall which read: Mourn the Dead, Fight for the Living. I remember seeing this in college with the United Mine Workers. The UMW also made their presence felt this past November in places like Muhlenberg County.
A number of candidates spoke to the group that night and included: Mike Lawerence(who is taking me duck hunting in Ballard Co.) Mike is the Democrat nominee for the House Seat in District 1. Carroll Hubbard and Rick Johnson addressed the Council. Both are candidate for the State Senate. City Commissioner candidates Robert Coleman, Gerald Watkins and Richard Abraham also made their case for continued support from the Council. (Pictured below is State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan with House Speaker Jody Richards)
With the influx of illegal immigration combined with cheap labor and the continual depreciation of the value of the American workforce by big business, I think Labor Unions will continue to have success in places like the Southern Pennyrile. Dana Corp, which voted in the Union left its employees with little choice. I have a number of friends who work there and asked my opinion regarding the vote and I encouraged and supported them to vote Union after hearing about the beating they were taking. As I told them, at the end of the day nobody is going to stand up for you and your family except you. The working men and women of Western Kentucky are going to have to stand up for themselves and if it means more Unions then so be it!!
It was apparent to me that the Union leadership is finally backing up their issues with passion and organization that will lead to continued success throughout Western Kentucky. I believe with strong leaders who are well spoken like Jeff Wiggins and Benny Adair, the Unions will continue to be successful in organizing Western Kentucky.
*All pictures shown by permission of Berry Craig.