Paducah Labor Day parade salutes 'Women in the Workplace'

Most Labor Day parades have one grand marshal, but the Paducah-based Western Kentucky Labor Day Committee decided 15 was more like it.

“That’s how many we’re having in our parade this year, and they are all women who belong to unions,” said Brandon Duncan, president of the non-profit, all-volunteer committee which sponsors Paducah's annual holiday processions.

The theme of Monday's parade is "Honor the Women in the Workplace," added Duncan, president of Steelworkers Local 727 in nearby Calvert City. "The Labor Day Committee chose this theme because of the great work and effort women have contributed to our workplace. We also want to celebrate the diversity, influence and changes women have brought into the workforce."


The honorees will lead the 37th annual parade down Broadway, the main street in Paducah, an historic old Ohio River town. Each of them will ride in a shiny UAW-built Corvette from the local Corvette Club.

Since 1981, the famous Chevy sports cars have been made by UAW Local 2164 in Bowling Green, Ky.

“We think this is a well-deserved honor for all of these women, each of whom has her own story to tell,” said Duncan, who is also financial secretary-treasurer of the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council in Paducah. “A lot of them are mothers who have kids and still manage to work and be active in their unions.”

A grand marshal is president of one of the largest union locals in the region. Donna Steele heads 850-member Steelworkers Local 550 at the U.S. Enrichment Corp. gaseous diffusion plant near Paducah. The facility enriches uranium for nuclear power plants.

The other grand marshals are Charla Devine, IAMAW District 154; Carla Draffen, AFT Local 1360; Sue Griggs, IBEW Local 816; Patty Grim, Teamsters Local 236; Robin Hobgood, Painters Local 500; Debbie Hosick and Amy Peacock, both Carpenters Local 357; Deborah Poe, Teamsters Local 236; Kathy Jones Pearson, Ironworkers Local 782; Patsey Reeves, Operating Engineers Local 181; Yvette Russell, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 184; Martha Wiggins AIM-UNITE! Chapter 22; Becky Wilson, IAMAW 154; and Selina Wilson, Laborers Local 1214.

A picnic, featuring live music, traditional western Kentucky barbecue and political speaking will follow the parade, which starts at 9:30 a.m. The procession includes floats, local high school bands, antique cars and tractors, fire trucks and other units, wheeled and afoot.

Paducah’s celebration is one of the largest Labor Day observances in the Bluegrass State.

The first Paducah parade was held in 1893 and was sponsored by the old Paducah Central Labor Union, an ancestor of the area council. The original 1892 CLU charter hangs in the council hall. The document bears the large signatures of American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers and Peter J. McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. McGuire and Matthew Maguire, a Machinist and secretary of the New York City CLU, are credited with organizing the country’s inaugural Labor Day parade in the Big Apple in 1882.

"We like to say Peter McGuire and Matthew Maguire are the great-grandfathers of our Labor Day parade," said Jeff Wiggins, area council president and president of Steelworkers Local 9447, also in Calvert City.

The parade is the subject of a mural on Paducah's tall, concrete floodwall, which is decorated with several scenes of city history. The mural, freshly refurbished, depicts a Labor Day procession from the 1970s.

Union members are marching with a banner emblazoned with “SOLIDARITY.” The artwork shows the faces of several area union leaders, including W.C. Young, a national union and civil rights leader from Paducah, who appears just above the letter “T” on the banner.

For reasons apparently unknown, the parades stopped after World War II. A group of union volunteers resurrected the processions in 1975.

The Labor Day Committee plans parades at least six months in advance and raises money for the program from unions, businesses and individuals. “We appreciate all of our donors,” Duncan said. “We don’t get any funds from the city and county government to put this on.”       



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