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Erie Locals
Back Unity Rally


Proud to Be ... UE!

During Erie’s "Unity in the Community" rally on Nov. 28, a man came up to Betsy Potter of Local 618 and said, "Wow... UE really comes out and pitches in, don’t they? You must be very proud." Potter responded, "Yes, we’ve got a lot to be proud of." Four UE locals had volunteers working on the rally, which took place in response to the Ku Klux Klan.

Not in Our Town!

The report that the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan planned a rally on the steps of the Erie County Courthouse on Saturday, Nov. 28 brought a swift and sure response from the community and the UE locals in Pennsylvania’s third-largest city.

UE members had a leading role in the successful "Unity in Our Community" rally that drew some 1,500 area residents to Mercyhurst College that afternoon, 32 blocks away from the KKK event. Designed as "a celebration of diversity," the rally combined speeches with arts and crafts, music and entertainment and workshops.

The unity rally’s organizers, the Pennsylvania Network of Unity Groups and the Citizens Against Racism in Erie (CARE), had the union’s backing from the beginning. Alerted to the KKK’s plans, Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark immediately contacted Erie locals and pledged the support of the national union.

"While the KKK’s presence in Erie is certainly bad news for your community, it does give us as trade unionists an opportunity to speak to our members, their families and neighbors about the dangers represented by such groups and anti-labor forces in our country that benefit from their activity," Clark said in a memorandum.

UE Locals 506 and 618, representing workers at the General Electric plant here, were involved in planning the rally. When Rev. Bob Lewis of CARE sent up the flag that he needed leaflets, Local 506 donated the paper and Local 618 did the printing. More than 20,000 pieces of information, including leaflets, agendas and instructions, blanketed the city. Local 506 Fin. Sec. Wayne Burnett worked tirelessly in helping to get out the word.

"We as Local 506 members must relay a message that as brothers and sisters, we cannot condone the presence of masked or unmasked individuals who would come to our city and try to shatter our union and community principals," wrote Burnett in a Local 506 News Supplement. Encouraging members and their families to attend the rally, he added, "‘Unity in the Community’ is the theme for that day, but it should also be a theme we abide by every day."

A letter to the editor published in the local newspaper on Nov. 19 said the upcoming KKK rally was "a sobering reminder that ugly thinking lurks in our nation is now coming to visit our community personally." Local 618 Pres. Betsy Potter and Bus. Agent Lynda Leech wrote that "hate groups despise unions because labor promotes the unity of all workers. All forms of discrimination weakens unity; that’s why UE is dedicated to the principle that discrimination of any kind must be exposed, opposed and ultimately stopped."

On Nov. 28, Betsy Potter coordinated volunteers for the unity rally. Donna Cramer, Local 506 brought her children to the unity rally and worked on the food committee providing refreshments. Wayne Burnett and his wife Constance volunteered during the day. (Constance Burnett also read a poem during the rally.) Other UE volunteers included Pat Rafferty, Dave Adams, David Kitchen, Ben Thurlow and Pete Lucas of Local 506, Lynda Leech of Local 618, Rich Drylie, Charles Tangle and Betty Thurlow of Local 683 and Scott Buterbaugh and Tom Migdal of Local 692.

From the speaker’s podium, Local 506 Pres. Dave Adams explained UE’s position against racism and told the rally that this policy has been mandated by the union’s annual policy-setting conventions. Lynda Leech, Local 618, read an uplifting poem she wrote on an anti-racist theme. Betsy Potter, Local 618, told the crowd how unions were the first organizations to integrate, and then led a chant of, "The people united, will never be defeated!"

The rally, which was also addressed by Mayor Joyce Savocchio, was such a success that State Rep. Linda Bebko-Jones proposed making it a yearly event.

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Cash-Rich GE Pleads Poverty,
Refuses Aid to Unity Rally

General Electric out of money?

The company’s assets may exceed $300,000,000 but there was not a penny to be spared to help defray the costs of the "Unity in the Community" rally held Nov. 28 in response to hate group activity.

Sue Breon, a GE spokesperson, said the Erie plant’s donation budget for 1998 had been exhausted. "We get a lot of requests for donations this time of the year," she was quoted as saying in the Erie Daily Times. "We can’t say yes to all of them."

Not every Erie business had the same reaction. "We get asked for donations a lot, but doing this seemed much more important than your average solicitation," said Bruce Hemme, general manager of Pufferbelly restaurants.

Pufferbelly was among the many businesses making contributions for the rally, which had the backing of Erie Mayor Joyce Savocchio, U.S. Rep. Phil English, the NAACP, Hispanic American Council, YWCA, Erie County Catholic Diocese and the city’s UE locals.

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UE News - 12/98

Home -> UE News -> 1998 Archives -> Article

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