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Public officials show support for striking Kaiser workers

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 28, 1998

LUTCHER – A bumper crop of elected officials showed their support for striking Kaiser steelworkers by attending a public rally Sunday at the St.

James Boat Club on Blind River.

The only public officials to speak, however, were St. James Parish SheriffWilly Martin Jr. and Rep. Roy Quezaire.Both expressed their support for the steelworker “family” and their hopes for a speedy end to the strike, which began Sept. 30.Martin, a former steelworker himself who has also been involved in past union negotiations, commented he “understands what they are going through,” and thanked the workers for their support.

Martin, along with other officials, were active in the only agreement hammered out so far, that of moving the Airline Highway picket line 30 feet off the shoulder the road. When the strike began a quickly-erectedchainlink fence confined the picketers to a narrow strip along the highway, forcing large trucks to partially block the highway for 90 seconds at a time while the strikers legally picketed at their front bumpers.

“The issue was public safety,” Martin said.

An estimated 500 people attended the rally, which moved from a hour of speeches to a picnic-like atmosphere, complete with heaps of white beans and rice, jambalaya and sausage.

Bands entertained, including the SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees) group, and a miniature train took small children for free rides.

Literature on the strike and supportive yard signs were also made available to attendees, many of whom accepted both.

Several officials of the United Steelworkers of America also spoke, included District 9 Director Homer Wilson, District 11 representative James Pepitone, Civil Rights Director Alex Powell, Louisiana AFL-CIO President Red Bourg and Louisiana AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Sybil Holt.

The list of public officials attending also included Sen. Louis Lambert,Sen. Ron Landry, Rep. Bobby Faucheux, Parish President Dale Hymel Jr.,Parish Councilmen Timothy Roussel and Jimmy Brazan, St. James Clerk ofCourt Ed Kinler, St. James Assessor Glenn Waguespack, School Boardmembers Lloyd LeBlanc and J.B. Schexnaydre, Gramercy Mayor HermanBourgeois, Gramercy Alderman “Shark” St. Pierre and Constable ShelbyOubre.

Hymel commented afterward, “The only thing disappointing is that it’s taking so long to get back to work.”He added a strike tends to polarize a community, but rallies such as this “bring the community together, and I think it was successful.”

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