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Union leaders emphasize Labor Day’s significance

Labor officials say holiday ‘pays tribute to the achievements of American workers’

Coming from a union family, Labor Day is an extremely important holiday for Robert Kutz.

“My grandfather (Charles Kutz) was president of the machinists union and became a labor mediator for the U.S. Department of Labor. My father (Robert Kutz Sr.) spent 65 years with Local 5 IBEW. My mom (Catherine) was a union worker at the A&P warehouse. During World War II, she worked at the PRR shops,” said Kutz, president of the 10,800 member Blair Bedford Central Labor Council.

Kutz joined the labor council in 1983 and became president in 1986.

“I am the longest-sitting president in the state of Pennsylvania. We will celebrate our 100th anniversary next September. I am hanging on for that, hope to retire next year after the celebration,” said Kutz, business agent and an electrician for Local 5 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which works in partnership with the National Electrical Contractors Association.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, became a legal holiday in 1894 and “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor website.

“Labor Day is a uniquely American holiday that celebrates the economic and social contributions of our workers,” said Robert O’Brien, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry acting secretary.

It’s a day to pay tribute to the achievements of American workers, whose contributions to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country are immeasurable. I would like to take a moment to commend all workers, but particularly the hard-working men and women in Pennsylvania. The workforce of this commonwealth is second-to-none,” O’Brien said.

The Blair Bedford Central Labor Council spearheads the local Labor Day celebration with its annual parade.

“We have so many units marching and wearing their colors and showing their pride in the colors they wear. Some management people also come to participate in the parade. The union members show pride in their work and their work ethic. We do our parade on Saturday so the people are free on Monday,” Kutz said.

The Johnstown Regional Central Labor Council has been a participant in the local parade for at least 16 years, said Ernest Esposito, president.

Labor Day is an important holiday locally.

“We can look back and reflect on our past and look to the future and grow the labor community. Altoona has a good union representation. We would like to try and maintain that. We can look at the benefits labor has brought: things like the 40-hour work week, vacations, sick days. These all came about because of organized labor, also the minimum wage. We always try to improve on things,” Kutz said.

“Labor Day recognizes the hard work our members have put forth over the years, the blood, sweat and tears to build this country, and the services they do for the community. We (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) have a lot of union members helping with the flooding in Houston. I think it is important to recognize the employees at the local level such as AMED; they provide a valuable service. The city workers and PennDOT workers all provide essential services. It is important to recognize Labor Day on the local level, how they provide services to those communities,” said Dominic “Mickey” Sgro, director of Council 83 AFSCME, chairman of the Central Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation and executive board officer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

Labor unions were founded to protect workers, Esposito said.

“People have to remember they could come to work, and if they didn’t smile, they could be fired. People have to remember where they came from and why they joined a union. Where would they go if they didn’t have a union to represent them? It was to protect workers,” Esposito said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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