What I Do
Deborah Cannada, Librarian - West Side Elementary School, Charleston, WV.
Thank you for joining me today as we celebrate the life and memory of our friend and brother, Ken Young, who died at the age of 84 on July 27 this year.
As president of the AFL-CIO, I often think about the men and women on whose shoulders we stand. We have a lot to be thankful for, and truly our history has many heroes. Ken Young was one of those heroes, and it is an honor to speak of him today.
Fair -- and fiercely so -- Ken was absolutely trusted throughout the labor movement. He was a long-term trade unionist with unquestioned devotion to the cause. He loved the labor movement. And in part because of that sincere love, he could get anybody to work together. He had an extraordinary ability to bring calm and reason into a situation full of flash points. He was gifted that way, and yet humble, and so effective, so well-liked.
Back in 1951, I’m told that when Ken was a new organizer with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, he put his talents as a writer and editor to work creating leaflets and brochures on organizing drives. He firmly believed in leaflets as an effective tool for educating workers, and he was right. He had a particular talent for using literature. When someone reached for a brochure outside a factory, he’d grab their hand! And talk to them! That was how he won campaigns.
After the merger of the American Federation of Labor with the CIO in 1955, Ken went to work for the AFL-CIO’s new Industrial Union Department. He held a number of positions in publications and publicity, and he worked his way up to direct the AFL-CIO’s government affairs. Along the way -- and this includes his time as the labor movement’s top lobbyist -- he steadfastly fought for equality within the labor movement and for civil rights throughout our country, notably helping found the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
After Lane Kirkland became president of the AFL-CIO in 1979, he tapped Ken to be his executive assistant, a position that was somewhat similar to today’s chief-of-staff. Ken proved himself to be adept at managing union leaders and at navigating the complex relationships at the White House and on Capitol Hill.
Everywhere, Ken was respected for his diligence and honesty. When a major union broke up, and other unions squared off over the affiliation of its parts, Ken stepped into those rancorous discussions as a moderator and worked out an agreement in which everybody knew they had been heard. Ken was trusted by all sides.
Ken retired at the end of 1991, but that wasn’t the end of his work. He continued to moderate disputes between labor unions. In fact, he was one of the only individuals to work as an Article 21 arbitrator who had not served as a union president. He was that trusted. His integrity was unquestioned.
And that really goes back to Ken’s roots. He was trusted because he trusted people. He had respect for everybody, and it came back to him.
In all the years of his working life, Ken was a member of the Newspaper Guild, and he was proud of his trade union roots. And I’m proud to say that he was made an honorary member of the United Mine Workers of America, which is my union.
I could tell you stories all day about the problems Ken solved and the people he helped, but I’ll end by saying simply that Ken Young played a profound role in America’s labor movement during a pivotal time, and he was as decent a person as you’d want to meet on this planet.
We’ll never forget Ken Young. And we’re all better off because of who he was and the work he did.
Thank you, and God bless his memory and his family.
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