HENRYETTA, Okla. (KFOR) – The first weekend in September and the last long weekend of summer still carries its original meaning on this town’s Main Street.
One of the first floats to make the slow drive in this parade carried United Steel Workers Local 48M.
One of the last, some 50 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 584, including Dustin Phelan, whose father and grandfather were proud union men.
“We make sure we get as many members as we can here just to celebrate Labor Day,” he says. “A bunch of people fought and died to have a day like this.”
Henryetta has a long history with its Labor Day celebrations.
In addition to the parades, bands and floats, the town hosts a rodeo on this weekend as well.
But parade organizers like Andy Bealko will readily tell you that saluting the American worker is still why people turn out.
The local glass plant, for instance, is still a union shop.
“We’ve always supported labor,” says Bealko. “I used to be the plant manager at Anchor Glass. They’re our union here.”
Go back a century and the people lining up to watch this parade might well have been coal miners.
In 1909, there were 14 miners here digging 65 tons every month.
The Oklahoma Historical Society dug up a long history of local celebrations and parades marking the continued art of struggles to improve working conditions.
In 2021, still during a pandemic, union members like Blake Langworghy handed out beads and marched with a lot of proud history behind them, and a continued fight for those generations of workers waiting on the road to the future.
“Labor Day was founded by the unions,” he states. “So this is our day. Everybody who works for a living, this is our day.”
Henryetta claims to hold the oldest and largest Labor Day celebration in Oklahoma, and the only parade officially sponsored by the AFL-CIO.