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Union celebrates Irish heritage

The FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums perform at the DC 37 Irish Heritage celebration at union headquarters March 6.

DC 37 members and activists joined together on March 6 at the union’s 25th annual Irish celebration to mark the contributions of Irish Americans to the labor movement.

The evening began with a speech by Bernadette O’Leary-Enzmann, co-chair of the DC 37 Irish Heritage Committee, who thanked the union for its commitment to highlight the strands that coil together into the strong community of solidarity that is our union.

A legacy of fighting for labor

Irish Americans maintain their strong presence in unions at a critical moment in history.

Unions face intense challenges in fighting off attacks by right-wing extremists that have taken over Washington, D.C. Union workers are threatened by national right-to-work legislation recently introduced in the House of Representatives. Public employee unions are fending off a direct assault in the federal courts, where extremists are backing legal cases that aim to defund unions by allowing non-union workers to withhold dues while still receiving union benefits.

DC 37 Senior Associate Director Oliver Gray, speaking on behalf of DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, noted that generations of Irish Americans have left a progressive legacy. He also reminded the audience of the importance of Irish participation in the labor movement from its very beginnings, and he listed vital contributions of the Irish men and women who migrated to the United States. Many were refugees fleeing starvation during the brutal Irish Famine of the 1850s.

“This celebration is of the spirit, determination and resiliency of a people who overcame daunting challenges to assert their rightful place in the American mosaic,” Gray said.

After the speeches, committee members honored retired Dept. of Parks Climbers & Pruners Local 1506 President John Huber, who is co-chair of the Irish Heritage Committee. He served the city for 32 years, and he has been involved in union activity thoughout his career.

Irish dancers kicked up a storm, wowing the audience with Celtic high stepping.
Former Council Rep Eileen Heaton, who served in the union’s White Collar Division before her retirement, was also honored by the committee for her service to the membership.

The crowd was entertained by the electric roots-folk music of The Canny Brothers Band — who regaled the audience with their eclectic Irish music — and by a performance by the renowned FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums, who took to the floor to play traditional marches.

The evening concluded with a stirring performance of Irish dance by the O’Malley Irish Dance Academy.