Unions celebrate Labor Day in Kenai

Posted: Tuesday, September 05, 2000

Sunshine on the final weekend of summer brought the union faithful out in force to celebrate Labor Day in Kenai on Monday.

"It's a day for the working person," said organizer Blake Johnson, president of the Kenai Peninsula Central Labor Council, an agglomeration of local unions.

"We've been holding this picnic for 11 Labor Days now," he went on to tell the audience.

Wayne Debnam, the Kenai representative to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, told the audience that Labor Day meant a lot to him.

"It's to honor our forefathers who fought and died to give us this gift," he said.

He urged more people to unionize.

"I'd like to see more people get involved with the union so they can get out from under the control of the dictators who don't care about their workers." Debnam said. "We are not the enemy. We do not dictate."

The annual celebration on the park strip at the south end of the Kenai Municipal Airport was organized by 75 volunteers, Johnson said.

"Several individuals made it flat easy for me," he said.

There was a huge locomotive-shaped barbecue serving up grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken, as well as a stage featuring the local band 10 Cent Zen, and a play area for children where face painting and toys were available for free. The Young Marines pitched in with set up of the tents. Months of planning went into the celebration.

"We're probably going to start planning next year's picnic next month," Johnson said.

Besides the Labor Council, seven other union organizations and several businesses sponsored the event. The labor groups included the IBEW, Cook Inlet Chapter of the ASEA, Building and Trades Council of Anchorage, Public Employees Local No. 71, P.A.C.E. 8-369, the State Federation of the AFL-CIO, and the Public Safety Employees Association.

Several area politicians were at the picnic pressing the flesh, though they were barred from putting up booths.

"No political booths this year," Johnson said. "A couple of years ago John Lindauer grabbed a hold of the mike and talked for a half hour."

Lindauer was the Republican candidate for governor in 1998.

Both Johnson and Debnam acknowledge the waning popularity of unionization but said it is still a strong force in industry.

"One thing is how much money the retirees contribute to the state's economy," Johnson said. "There's $13 million to $15 million paid out every month in union retirement benefits in Alaska. It makes it affordable for them to stay in the state after they retire."

Debnam said the union can bring honesty and integrity into the trades.

"It's a lot of good people in the community who come together for the right cause," he said.

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