Local unions held a donation drive at Savikko Park Monday, celebrating Labor Day by collecting an array of needed items for local service organizations.
It’s the first year the Juneau Central Labor Council has done a collection drive but within the first half-hour, they already had three tables full of donations, leading several volunteers to suggest they’ll probably do it again.
The CLC typically holds an annual picnic at Savikko Park, said Kirk Perisich, president of the council and a representative with Northwest Carpenters Union Local 1281, but with COVID-19 complicating those plans members decided to do something for the community. The council reached out to the Glory Hall, AWARE and foster child programs, Perisich said, and those organizations each came back with a list of needed items.
“CLC decided this was our answer for not being able to do the picnic,” Perisich said. “We’ve already had a fairly good amount. We’ve only been open 25 minutes and we already have three tables full of stuff ready to be donated.”
The council set up a drive-thru donation stop in the parking lot. Under the cover of one of the park’s cabins, volunteers sorted donated items onto three tables, one for each of the organizations. Winter clothes, shoes, backpacks and all kinds of toiletries covered the tables. Volunteers prepared goody bags full of snack foods to thank those who donated, but Perisich and other volunteers noted most people had declined the bags.
“We see this is very well-received by our community and we hope our members find another way to do this again,” said Nadine Lefebvre, who represented the Alaska Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees Retiree Council local 52.
Lefebvre said union membership had allowed her to age in place, and to be able to count on things like a pension and health care into old age, a sentiment shared by volunteer Cindy Spanyers.
“I’ve really benefitted by being a member,” Spanyers said. “Having a voice at work for collective bargaining and a secure retirement.”
State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, was volunteering Monday, helping to sort the various items that came in.
“I think it’s always been crucial that workers get to work together for good wages and benefit,” Kiehl said. “That’s how we have a middle class in this country.”
Unions were responsible for most of the labor reforms that all workers, not just union, workers enjoy today Perisich said. Because of the large number of government workers in the state, Perisich said the attitude toward unions in Alaska had been mostly positive.
“Alaska is kind of a union-friendly and worker-friendly state,” Perisich said. “I think the high cost of living and access to (union) benefits makes it easier for people to live in the state.”
Perisich noted that recent polling indicated younger Americans have more favorable attitudes toward unions, which he attributed to the rise in economic inequality. Perisich told an anecdote about a young engineer who said they were seeking union employment to help pay for university loans.
A 2019 poll from Gallup reported 65% of Americans have a favorable view of unions, although most don’t belong to one. A 2018 Pew Research Center study noted that while the majority of Americans viewed unions favorably, only about 10% of the population belonged to one. Unionization peaked in 1954, at 34.8%, according to Pew.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 17.7% of employed workers in Alaska were union members, while 19.5% were represented by a union.
“Without the unions, we wouldn’t even have a Labor Day or weekends,” Perisich said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.