The city of Henryetta, Okla., has
become a favorite spot for organized labor in a right-to-work state because of
its Labor Day Festivities, which are some of the largest in the state.
|Tulsa Local 584 organizer K.J. Payton replaces the tip of his power drill while working to repair a historic pavilion and fishing pier in Henryetta, Okla., on March 10.
“We go down there every year and walk in their Labor Day Parade,” said K.J. Payton, an organizer for Tulsa Local 584. “Anything we can do to help Henryetta, we want to be involved.”
It’s part of why IBEW locals in the state jumped at the chance to help renovate a historic pavilion and fishing pier there as part of a project sponsored by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.
The pier and pavilion are in Nichols Park, which was built from 1938-1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps – formed during the Great Depression to provide jobs for millions of unemployed men. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The dock and pavilion have been popular destinations ever since, but they had fallen into disrepair because securing enough public money for repairs wasn’t easy in Henryetta, where the population is just 5,700. Historical records are unclear, but it’s believed the federal government operated Nicholas Park before turning it over to the city decades ago.
“It’s a beautiful park in a beautiful location,” said Robert Stroede, conservation manager for the alliance. “But often times, when a smaller city gets something like that, it doesn’t have the means to maintain it. This was something we really wanted to get done for the people in this area.”
The IBEW and other Oklahoma trade unions pitched in on March 10, donating materials and labor. That morning, the sportsmen’s alliance hosted a youth outreach fishing event, handing out 150 fishing rods courtesy of Purdue Fishing, Stroede said. Proceeds from the Oklahoma AFL-CIO’s annual dinner also were used to fund the project.
Oklahoma City Local 1141 Business Manager Dewayne Wilcox said his local donated about $1,500 to the effort and about 10 members volunteered to work on it. More than 100 members of Oklahoma’s trade unions took part overall.
“This added another 50 years to that pavilion,” Wilcox said. “It would have lasted only a year or two in its current state. It’s a historic pavilion and the roof was falling in on it. We completely restored it.”
Republicans control all the statewide offices and have a supermajority in the both the Oklahoma House and Senate, giving labor little pull in governmental affairs. Projects like this are even more important in such an atmosphere, Payton said.
|Oklahoma City Local 1141 member Don Mullens was one of the more than 100 representatives from Oklahoma trade unions that repaired a historic pavilion at Henryetta’s Nicholas Park on March 10.
“We’re constantly being attacked in Oklahoma from an anti-labor perspective,” Payton said. “Anytime we can show we’re pro-Oklahoma, we’re going to do it. It was a really fun project.”
IBEW members who participated did so with enthusiasm.
“Kind of the general principle of a union is improving the quality of life for a group of individuals,” said Joe Baker, a member of Tulsa Local 1002 who was among the volunteers. “Being part of organized labor has allowed me to do that, to take care of my family, so it means a lot to me to come back and do some of these community-building projects.”
Henryetta Mayor Jennifer Clason issued a proclamation calling for Union Day in the city, adding that Henryetta is proud to consider itself pro-union. Two state legislators – one a Democrat, the other a Republican – attended the dedication ceremony.
“It’s amazing,” Clason said. “It’s absolutely more than we could ever ask for. We have multiple unions working together, united, trying to make our park the fabulous thing we think it is.”
Click here to view videos of the project and the dedication ceremony.
The IBEW’s commitment to Henryetta continues. Members in the construction branch are there working to repair the Anchor Glass Container plant, one of the city’s main employers, after an explosion and fire severely damaged the facility on May 16. There were no injuries.
The plant employs about 600 workers, most of whom are represented by the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union.