ALTONA — The common thread among speakers at the 15th-annual Salute to Labor event was young people.
“We’ve got to look at different ways (to approach the future),” said Jack Duffy, one of two people recognized at the dinner for outstanding contributions to unions. “We need the trades. We need young people to continue to the cause ... to maintain the middle class.”
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In 1980, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force and went to work for the U.S. Postal Service in Worcester, Mass. He retired in 1987 and moved to Plattsburgh to work at the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
There, he joined the American Federation of Government Employees and was elected local vice president in 1989 and president in 1991 and 1993.
“We need to continue to fight the good fight ... and stand up for what we believe in,” he told those gathered at the Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall for the annual event, sponsored by the Clinton County Democratic Party. “We need to be vigilant.”
The other awardee, Thomas Donahue, offered advice to young people entering the workforce.
“Get involved. Don’t be afraid,” he said after the ceremony. “We need new leaders.”
Proof of that, he said, was the undeniable truth that many of the ceremony’s attendees were getting older.
Donahue began working for the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in 1984 as a vocational drafting instructor at Altona Correctional Facility.
About two years later, he was elected to the Public Employees Federation Statewide Labor Management Committee as a representative for Department of Corrections employees in the North Country.
He was later elected to the Public Employees Federation Executive Board as a Department of Corrections representative for Clinton, Essex, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.
Donahue is the statewide chairperson for the DOC Labor Management Committee.
The Salute to Labor scholarship went to Maile Sapp, a senior who graduated from Beekmantown Central High School this year and will be attending Harvard University in the fall.
Sapp’s mother, Andree Sapp, is a member of New York State United Teachers through the Beekmantown Teachers Association.
“They (unions) are truly the backbone to ensure that our natural human rights are guaranteed,” Maile said as she accepted her scholarship award.
Keynote speaker Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) discussed the education system in the United States.
He referenced a conversation he had with a provost of a university, who told him the worst thing to happen to the education system was Sputnik, the first satellite that was launched into space by the former Soviet Union.
“‘People stopped being tinkerers,’” Owens said the provost told him.
“Everyone wanted to go to college instead of finding a path that was best suited to them and best suited to the economy,” the congressman said. “And that’s really something we need to alter our thinking about.”
‘JUST TAKE A JOB’
Owens said he thinks Americans’ views of education are headed in the wrong direction.
“How do we educate young people to fill the jobs we have? Not the job, necessarily, that we want, but the jobs that we have.”
At every commencement ceremony Owens has attended, graduates were told by speakers to find a job they loved, he said.
But that’s not necessarily the most practical or the wisest choice, the congressman said.
“Find where there’s a job, and go do that. Then find an avocation that satisfies you.
“You need to do those things to make yourself a whole person, but you first need to figure out what the available jobs are.”
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