Labor union president proud of success locally

Though many celebrate Labor Day with barbeques and family picnics, the holiday, first recognized as a federal holiday in 1894, originally began as a celebration of the labor movement in the United States.

Local labor councils organized a number of celebrations this weekend in honor of the holiday they call their own.

Bob Kutz, president of the Blair Bedford Central Labor Council, is among those who spearhead the annual Labor Day parade each year, and he works year-round to promote the interests of labor unions throughout the region.

The Mirror’s Paige Minemyer spoke with Kutz last week to discuss the meaning of the holiday and the role of labor unions in the local community.

Mirror: Why do you think Labor Day is important?

Kutz: If we didn’t do what we did in the past, we’d have to be doomed to repeat it. We’d have kids working eight to 10 hours a day at 12 years old again. Corporate greed is corporate greed – it’s worldwide.

Mirror: Do you think labor unions thrive in our region?

Kutz: I think that they’re doing admirably well, considering that we’re governed by legislators that are completely and totally against us. There’s just no question that they are prejudiced in the other direction. They’re not out to help us; they’re out to hurt us.

For example, with the paycheck protection they’ve introduced … these type of bills are out to hurt us. A representative is supposed to represent all of the people, and that’s just not what we’re getting.

Mirror: Do you think that trend applies nationally?

Kutz: No, actually. No. I think nationally you see just the opposite, what with the fact that there are a lot of U.S. senators that actually do listen and do work with you. Even our own Congressman (Bill) Shuster works with people to further jobs and further the economy locally. Our state representatives just do not, and that’s highly unfortunate, because if we all work together we’d all be better for it.

The one in this immediate area that listens to both sides of the fence before he makes decisions is Jerry Stern, and a little down the road, Mike Fleck as well. But (Rep. John) McGinnis and and (Sen. John) Eichelberger have been polar opposites on that.

Mirror: Do you think unions are attractive to young people? How are unions working to reach out to them?

Kutz: The only way they’ll ever be drawn to it is when they’re put into a situation where they’re compromised and have their rights taken away from them and realize that in numbers there is strength.

Unfortunately, they’re going to have to learn the hard way, most of them. People don’t always understand that unions are founded on the same principles as this country: “United we stand and divided we fall.”

Mirror: What are the greatest strengths of labor unions?

Kutz: The fact that they have strength in numbers and work together to accomplish things. None of those things we enjoy now would have happened without them. Without them we wouldn’t have the 40-hour work week or regular breaks – they’re all among major accomplishments of the union.

Mirror: What about weaknesses?

Kutz: Our Legislature, it’s what hurts us the most. Our own legislators are often against us.