Union members, supporters, rally for PRO Act in Paducah

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Lou Nell Busby drove 136 miles from Henderson, Tenn., to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s field office in Paducah, Ky., to stand up for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which the minority leader opposes.

 “I’d drive across the country if I could change his vote,” said Busby, a member of OPEIU Local 277.

Busby and 16 other union members and union supporters braved nearly 90-degree heat today to march, wave signs and chant “Pass the PRO Act!” on a sunbaked sidewalk outside McConnell’s office in the Century Building.

Afterwards, a small contingent—all masked against COVID--went inside to McConnell's office with signed postcards from rally-goers urging passage of the PRO Act. 

Alton Cunningham III, Paducah-based business development director for IUPAT District Council 91, rang the doorbell, got no response and left the cards in the office mailbox. “Mitch McConnell has never done anything to help working men and women,” he said.

The Paducah action was one of six such rallies held statewide at field offices of McConnell and Sen Rand Paul. Also a Republican, Paul, too, is against the PRO Act.

“We’re trying to see if we can put a little pressure on the Senate to pass the PRO Act,” said Alton Cunningham Jr., an IUPAT retiree. “We’re just trying to level the playing field.

“Everybody deserves a level playing field, and there’s just not one for unions right now.”

UAW retiree Jerry Sykes of Draffenville didn’t need directions to the rally site. “I’ve been here numerous times to take information to Sen. McConnell’s office about health care and other issues that affect the working men and women of this country.

“He has never done anything for the working class since he’s been in office, and we are bound and determined to get our message across today.”

J.W. Cleary, a USW retiree and local NAACP president, remembered the message he heard many times from the late W.C. Young, a national labor and civil rights leader from Paducah. “He always said he wouldn’t be where he was without the labor movement and the NAACP.

“I’ve been halfway successful in my life, but I wouldn’t have been without the NAACP and the union. So when the unions need me, I’m going to try to support them any way I can.”

Mike Stone, a retired Millwright, said he’s “sick and tired of Mitch McConnell pandering to the wealthy. It’s time for him to ‘pander’ to me, the voter.”

Millwright Josh Fox said working families across the state and across the country "need to get [the PRO Act]...passed."

Richard Feeman, a Millwright and a Carpenter "came out to support the PRO Act and give the brothers something to fight for. Why would [McConnell] want to do this [oppose the PRO Act] to our state and our brothers."

Chad Rennison, IBEW Local 816, showed up “to try to convince Mitch McConnell to pass the PRO Act. He needs to get off his duff and do something for working people.”

Julian Roberts-Robinson and his mother, Marvle Danine Roberts-Robinson sported Local 816 tee shirts though they aren’t union members.

“My father retired as a postmaster, but he was a union representative for many years” she said. “From the age of 6 on up, I remember our union household. I’m here today to support all the unions.”

“I’m out here to support the labor unions. Mitch McConnell is doing a terrible job,” said her son, is a local Democratic activist and member of the Young Democrats.

Also a devout Democrat, recent Minnesota transplant Deb Staley of Paducah came to show solidarity with local labor. “I’m a hard-core Democrat,” she said, adding with a grin, “I came down here to help flip Kentucky blue.”

Nora Clifton of Benton is also partial to the Democrats. “We need rights, and the Republican Party is taking them away—our voting rights, our union rights.”

Unions represented at the Paducah action included the AFT, Carpenters, IBEW, Ironworkers, IUPAT, KEA/NEA, Millwrights, OPEIU, UAW and USW.

The actions were coordinated by the Frankfort-based Kentucky State AFL-CIO and implemented by a half dozen Kentucky central labor councils as part of a nationwide “PRO Act week of Action" sponsored by the AFL-CIO and supported by labor’s allies.

The idea was to “focus on in-person rallies at state offices of all 100 U.S. Senators.”

Bill Londrigan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president, said the actions were also geared to spread the word about why “the PRO Act is essential to making America’s economy work for working people and why it is so critical for Senator McConnell to call for a vote and support the PRO Act.”

The Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council arranged the Paducah action, which received coverage in The Paducah Sun newspaper and on WPSD-TV, the local NBC-affilate.

The other actions were in Ashland (Ashland Area Labor Council), Lexington (Bluegrass Central Labor Council), Louisville (Greater Louisville Central Labor Council), Fort Wright (Northern Kentucky Central) and Owensboro (Owensboro Labor Council).