The Western Kentucky Worker
Official Newsletter of the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO
Prepared by Berry Craig, AFT-Kentucky and KEA-NEA
Volume 11, Number 5, May, 2010

 

The UA's Howard Walker earns W.C. Young Award

EDITOR'S NOTE: The annual W.C. Young Award dinner will be May 13 at 6 p.m. at MLC's Restaurant. More information is available from Benny Adair, council vice president and emcee at (270) 395-7195.

Howard Walker started packing a union card the same year he got a driver's license.

“I went to work for Sanks Keeling's Excavation Company after school,” said the 2010 W.C. Young recipient. “I was 16. Sanks got me a Teamsters book and I started driving a dump truck. That's when I got started in organized labor. I didn't have a clue what I was getting into.”

Walker , 60, stuck with the union. He spent a career in organized labor, as a Teamster, Laborer and a Pipefitter. He retired as a member of Paducah Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 184 and a state organizer for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters.

The Young Award, named for the late W.C. Young, a national labor and civil rights leader from Paducah , is the highest honor the Western Kentucky Area Council bestows. Young earned the first award in 1994.

Walker, who still carries a Local 184 card, was also McCracken County sheriff for a dozen years. Even then, he was union. He tried to organize his deputies as a Laborers' local.

Walker said unions are based on what his grandmother Hodge used to say. “We're supposed to love each other and care for each other and remember that there's good in everybody,” he recalled. “She also said we've all got to live here together until the Good Lord takes us home.

“She said, too, that everybody was created equal and that everybody ought to have the same chance as everybody else. She taught me how to respect people and to love people. I've tried to live my whole life that way.”

Teamsters' Local 236 in Paducah was Walker 's first union. He joined Laborers Local 1214 when he was between his junior and senior years at Reidland High School , where he graduated. “Lacy McCloud, the business manager, was a good friend of my family. He asked me if I'd like to make a lot of money,” Walker said.

“I was young and dumb and full of you know what. So I said yes. He said he needed somebody who had some guts to go into the Mayfield Creek bottoms where all those snakes were and cut trees with a chain saw. They were running a pipeline in there. I made so much money I thought I was rich.”

After he graduated from high school in 1968, Walker was accepted into the Local 184 apprentice program. “During my training, I really began to appreciate how learning a skill can prepare you for earning a good living. But I also learned that if somebody takes the time to teach you a skill it was your responsibility to do it right when you're on the job.”

He opted to switch jobs to the sheriff's department in 1981. “When I decided to run, somebody asked me why I wanted to be involved in politics,” Walker remembered. “I said I don't want to be involved in politics, I want to serve the community. I want to help my community.”

No sooner was he sworn in than he encouraged his deputies to join the Laborers union. “I told them the union was the way they could earn a good living.”

The county government balked, Walker said. “The deputies finally gave up waiting on the county to negotiate a contract. I've wished a million times that I had taken more time to explain to them that it was worth the wait and that organized labor was the way to go.”

McCracken countians evidently thought Walker was the way to go as their sheriff.

After voters approved a change in the state constitution permitting sheriffs to succeed themselves, Walker won a second term.

“When sheriff's succession passed, I went to work on a vision, a hope and a dream I had for a long time – a merit system and hazardous duty pay for deputies,” Walker said. “We got both but I made so many trips to Frankfort that it got to the point where I hated Frankfort . It took a lot of arguing and a lot of fighting, but the legislature finally passed a bill that said each county could vote for a merit system if it wanted to. Our fiscal court passed it. But it broke my heart when Frankie [Augustus, who succeeded Walker as sheriff] did away with the merit system for deputies.”

In 1996, Walker took a job as a UA state organizer. “I never did hold an office in Local 184,” he said. “I always felt like there were other ways to serve.”

Walker served as a state organizer until 2007. “It doesn't matter what office you hold in a union, you've got to remember the people who put you in that position,” he said. “You've got to remember that you are working for them. They are not working for you.”

In turn, union members from rank-and-filers to officers have to work together to keep the local strong, he added. “Everybody needs to go to union meetings,” Walker said. “The older members, even the retired members, need to stress to younger members it is their job to carry on what their forefathers did in the union.”

Walker said it saddens him when union members allow themselves to be swayed by conservative, anti-union Republican politicians who pander to divisive social issues like abortion, gun control and gay marriage. He says they're just trying to split the union vote.

“I'm a Democrat,” he said. “I can't believe that any member of organized labor would vote Republican. But I tell them if you want to live like a Republican vote Democratic.”

Walker said that thanks to conservative Republicans, many good union jobs have been shipped to cheap labor countries overseas. “My time is done,” said Walker, who is battling cancer.

“I grew up poor. My wife, Ginger, and I could make it if we had to move into a tent. But a lot of people today – including union members -- grew up in nice homes or live in nice homes and they don't know what it's like to be poor. I am worried about them.”

Some of the country's economic problems are self-inflicted, he said. “People buy foreign cars. They're made overseas or made in this country in non-union plants. I can't imagine buying a Toyota or some other foreign car. We are ending up shooting ourselves with our own bullets by buying all these foreign cars.”

Walker will end up owning a shiny wooden and brass plaque symbolic of the W.C. Young Award. In 2009, he received the first Lewis Hicks Award from the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. That honor is named for the late Lewis Hicks of La Center, a Young Award winner and longtime council delegate and trustee.


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Minutes of the April 1, 2010, Area Council Meeting   

Submitted by Berry Craig, AFT-Local 6010, recording secretary

President Jeff Wiggins gaveled the Executive Board meeting to order at 6:15 p.m. Six officers were present, a quorum.

Wiggins reviewed the previous month's correspondence, including a letter from former City Commissioner Robert Coleman asking for help in restoring the Oscar Cross home.

Frances Willey, treasurer of the Western Kentucky Labor Day Committee, reported that the theme of the 2010 Labor Day program will be "Remembering Our Past While Protecting Our Future." She said the committee is trying to get the Confederate Railroad band as the main entertainment. She said the Craig Russell Band, a group of local entertainers, wants to come back. In addition, Willey said the committee is unsure if the program will be at Carson Park or Noble Park . The officers indicated their preference for Carson Park .

In other business:

  • Financial Secretary-Treasurer Brandon Duncan gave the financial report.
  • The Executive Board agreed to seek someone to mow the lawn outside the council hall.
  • The board directed Recording Secretary Berry Craig to draft a letter to be sent (under President Wiggins' signature) to State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan asking him to remind all AFL-CIO affiliated unions in the council's jurisdiction that they must be affiliated with the council.
  • The board passed a resolution to repair the halyard on the flagpole.

The Executive Board also unanimously voted Howard Walker as the 2010 W.C. Young Award recipient after Council Vice President Benny Adair withdrew his nomination in support of Walker . Adair, who emcees the annual award dinners, said the dinner will be at 6 p.m. May 13 at MLC's restaurant. The cost is $15 per person.

 Officers also praised the special March 27 flag raising ceremony at the council hall. Delegate Donna Steele said the program "was really moving and it was great."

 The meeting adjourned at 6:45 p.m.

 Wiggins gaveled the regular meeting to order at 7:05 p.m. After the customary Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, delegates voted to suspend the regular order of business to hear political candidates including Mark Waggoner of Mayfield, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Graves County commissioner, District 2, in the May 18 primary. Glenda Adair and Wayne Chambers also spoke briefly. Adair, the wife of Benny Adair, is a candidate for  Marshall County circuit court clerk in the May Democratic primary. Chambers, a council trustee, is also a Democratic primary candidate for the Graves District 3 seat.

 In other business:

  • Willey was sworn in as a delegate from AIM-UNITE! Chapter 22.
  • COPE Director Howard "Bubba" Dawes expressed concerns about the state COPE meeting with regard to the two main candidates for the Democratic senate nomination, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and Attorney Gen. Jack Conway. The state AFL-CIO did not recommend endorsement for either candidate, freeing individual unions and union members to support candidates on their own.
  • Delegates were also concerned that Rex Smith, the AFL-CIO-endorsed candidate for the Second District state senate seat, had not visited the council.
  • Duncan recommended that the council come up with some kind of guidelines for selecting the W.C. Young recipient. Wiggins appointed, Duncan, Craig and Adair to a committee to draw up a draft proposal for consideration by the delegates.
  • Steele recommended that the council should do more to get more women involved in the council.

The council also heard the financial report, the Labor Day Committee report and the Executive Board report. Delegates approved the resolution to repair the halyard.

The meeting adjourned at 7:45 p.m.


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Here is the letter from Wiggins to Londrigan and Londrigan's response:

Western Kentucky Area Council AFL-CIO
Samuel D. Henderson Building
1202 South 4 th street
P.O. Box 2621
Paducah , Ky. 42002-2661
Phone (270) 898-2558 or (270) 217-6235
Fax    (270) 443-2914
jlwiggins2@juno.com

April 18

Dear Bill:

As you know, local union participation is vital to the success of our central labor councils. I am sorry to say that several unions affiliated with our council are not participating in council activities. Some of them haven't sent delegates to meetings in months, even years. 

    At our April meeting, the delegates voted unanimously to ask me to write you, urging you to contact all locals in our jurisdiction and remind them that the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Constitution requires that all AFL-CIO affiliated unions must fully participate in central labor council activities, including the paying of per capita dues.

Thanks,

Jeff

Dear Brother Wiggins:

Thank you for your letter of April 18, 2010 regarding affiliation of local unions with the Western Kentucky Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO.  I could not agree with you more that affiliation coupled with participation is critical to the success of your Council and vital for the protection of the rights and interests of the workers in your region.  With regards to the constitutional requirements you refer to in your letter, there is no language in the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Constitution and By-Laws which directs or requires affiliation of local unions with Central Labor Councils.  In general, Central Labor Councils are voluntary organizations unless an International Union has such language requiring participation by their local unions with Central Labor Councils and/or State Federations. 

That being said, I would gladly assist you and the Western Kentucky Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO to reach out and encourage the local unions in your region to participate in your Council and stress the importance of a united front.  If you would be so kind as to provide me with a list of the local unions in the area, including the proper contact person and current mailing address, I will send them a letter informing them of the importance of participation.  If you would like to plan some type of event or dinner in conjunction with such letter, we could use this opportunity to attract local union representation and give folks the opportunity to see how the Council functions and the important work that it performs in Western Kentucky .  I would be happy to attend such an event and see if we can reconnect with the local unions that have not been affiliated or participating.

Please let me know if you think this would be an appropriate approach to building the Western Kentucky Area Labor Council's base and re-energizing its affiliates. 

I appreciate your efforts in this regard and look forward to working with you to build a united labor movement in Western Kentucky . 

Sincerely and Fraternally, Bill Londrigan


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Mongiardo-Conway race heads for the finish line

Council President Jeff Wiggins hopes to be a big turnout for union-endorsed candidates in the May 18 Democratic primary. “A lot of the people we endorsed or recommended for endorsement don't have primary opposition,” he said. “But some of them do. And it's important that we support them with our votes.” Statewide, the hottest race will be for the U.S. Senate. The main Democratic contenders are Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo and Attorney Gen. Jack Conway. “The state AFL-CIO didn't recommend an endorsement for either one of them,” Wiggins said. “Vote for the candidate of your choice.”


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JEFF WIGGINS AND THE AREA COUNCIL
ARE FEATURED ON THE AFL-CIO NOW
INTERNET BLOGSITE

We're Still Mourning the Dead and Fighting for the Living

by Berry Craig, Apr 21, 2010

Jeff Wiggins, president of the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, in the Paducah, Ky., union hall.
Jeff Wiggins, president of the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, in the Paducah, Ky., union hall

A century ago, many immigrant coal miners worked long hours at low pay in jobs that threatened their lives and limbs.

George F. Baer didn't care. As he said:

“They don't suffer. Why, they can't even speak English.”

Baer was the chief spokesman for the Anthracite coal trust in 1902, when Pennsylvania hard coal miners, immigrant and native-born went on strike. The miners sought a pay hike, shorter hours, safer working conditions and recognition of their union, the  Mine Workers. The strike was settled after President Theodore Roosevelt intervened.

The coal trust was made up of a group of railroad and mining companies that controlled nearly all of the Anthracite mines. Baer was president of the Reading Railroad.

He rates only a few lines in most history books. Even so, Baer is worth remembering.

Because of employers like him—Massey Energy Co. President and CEO Don Blankenship comes to mind—unions still must “mourn the dead, fight for the living.” That's the unofficial motto of  Workers Memorial Day, which will again be observed April 28. (I'm with UMWA President Cecil Roberts. I want to see Blankenship cuffed, zipped in an orange jump suit and made to do the perp walk.)

Unions have marked every April 28 as Workers Memorial Day since 1989. The date was chosen because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became part of the U.S. Labor Department on April 28, 1971, and because of a similar April 28 commemoration in Canada , according to the AFL-CIO. Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, says: 

When we observe Workers Memorial Day this year, we will have a special remembrance for the 29 West Virginia  coal miners who died because Massey Energy put profit ahead of safety. Meanwhile, our prayers go out to their families.

Wiggins said his council's hall is a workers' memorial itself.

It is named for a union brother, Samuel D. Henderson, a Pipe Fitter, who died of injuries he suffered on the job.

Inside the hall, a small photo of Henderson  hangs on a wall next to a big black and white metal sign that includes the Workers Memorial Day motto. The motto is based on a famous quote from union pioneer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, a UMWA organizer in the anthracite coal fields and elsewhere:

Workers Memorial Day
April 28
Mourn the Dead
Fight for the Living

“Sammy's picture and the sign are important reminders for us every time we meet,” said Wiggins, a United Steelworkers member who is also on the state AFL-CIO Executive Board.   

In Baer's time, workplace safety laws were few, inadequate and mostly ignored by employers. As a result, railroads, mines and mills were slaughterhouses. Thousands of workers were killed, maimed or made seriously ill every year. One apologist for the likes of Baer—Blankenship would have loved him—said the country didn't need worker safety and health laws because such laws only protected “those of the lowest development.” 

Few occupations are more hazardous than mining. The anthracite miners of 1902 also had faith that with UMWA recognition, the mine owners would have to make their jobs safer. (Statistics show that UMWA mines are much safer than nonunion mines like Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine where the 29 miners lost their lives in a massive explosion April 5.)

Baer hated the UMWA as much as Blankenship does, declaring:

The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for—not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country….

Nobody fought harder for unions in the era of “Divine Right” Baer than the UMWA's Mother Jones, who was also a Socialist and a co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World. ”Her picture is on the  Kentucky state workers memorial stone, which sits on the lawn outside our hall,” Wiggins said.

Jones was dubbed the “Miners' Angel.” But her words weren't always angelic. As Wiggins explained:

She actually said, ”‘Mourn for the dead, fight like hell for the living.' That's what's chiseled on our memorial.”

 

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Want to talk union on TV?

Berry Craig is looking for guests for “The Union Label” his talk show on Cable Channel 2.

He can be reached by phone at 543-3270 or by email at bcraig8960@newwavecomm.net



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Signed Copies of Berry Craig's book, True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo are still available from the Western Kentucky Labor Day Committee Inc., which puts on Paducah's annual Labor Day program.

The books are $19.99 and all proceeds go to the Labor Day Committee.

Books are available by mail – at no extra charge for postage.

Checks should be made out to the Western Kentucky Labor Day Committee Inc. and sent to Frances Willey, 622 Charleston Ave., Lone Oak, Ky. 42001. Books may be ordered by contacting Craig by email at bcraig8960@newwavecomm.net .

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Got news or photos you want to share with your union brothers and sisters?

Want to speak your mind on an issue?

Send what you have to Berry Craig, newsletter editor, at bcraig8960@newwavecomm.net


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Citations: Photos courtesy of Berry Craig III.