In 1900, thousands came out for a Labor Day Parade in downtown Wilkes-Barre and subsequent park gathering celebrating unions, according to a published report from the time.
“Miners, teamsters, brewers, lace weavers, brass workers, iron workers, blacksmiths, all marched side by side, each having its separate union, yet all united on the principles for which unionism stands,” said an article in the Wilkes-Barre Semi Weekly Record.
The lace weavers carried banners “neatly trimmed with lace,” and young bobbin workers paraded by in white capes carrying canes, it said.
The Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council is trying to recapture some of this pride and spirit Sept. 3 with its 6th Annual NEPA Labor Day Celebration and Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Kirby Park.
Opening ceremonies will include a solidarity parade of members from various labor groups.
“This area has a rich history of labor and hard-working people with a strong work ethic,” said Walter Klepaski Jr., a retired member of the AFL-CIO and LIUNA. “We want to celebrate our history and at the same time educate the public about some of that history.”
The festival is free, and any proceeds will fund several local veteran projects and organizations.
At the urging of UFCW Local 1776 member Wayne Namey, a group of union and non-union citizens formed the festival committee to “continue what was started over a century ago,” Klepaski said.
“A lot of the benefits workers have today — like Social Security, minimum wage and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safeguards — all came about because of unions advocating to make the workplace safer and to improve the quality of life for all workers,” he said.
Klepaski is pushing for children to attend, saying “a lot of the younger people don’t even know what Labor Day stands for.”
To him, it is a day of recognition for the value of hard work in any position, from a janitor cleaning the floor of a building to the company CEO.
“They all have something to contribute to the benefit of America,” he said.
It’s unclear when the Wilkes-Barre Labor Day festivities ended. A June 1933 article discussed plans to hold a rally, picnic and the first Labor Day parade in at least a decade. However, a September 1939 news report said there were no Labor Day parades or mass gatherings in the Wyoming Valley that year.
The festival also will showcase young local musicians from Ron Scavone’s Music Corner from noon to 2 p.m. and from Joe Nardone Jr.’s Rockology Music Academy from 2 to 4 p.m., Klepaski said.
City-licensed food vendors interested in participating should contact festival committee member Paul Auker at (570) 592-8214.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.