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Originally published May 18, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Page modified May 18, 2013 at 7:49 PM

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Labor leader Kenney pushed for farmworker rights

Former state Labor Council president Lawrence Kenney took on the rights of farmworkers “because it was the right thing to do” at a time when such a stance took courage. He died at 82 after a long illness.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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Former state Labor Council President Lawrence Kenney was remembered last week for his advocacy for farmworkers at a time when such a stance took courage.

“He was very committed to working the problems of farmworkers and did much to bring farm laborers into better coverage and really helped promote them,” former Gov. Mike Lowry recalled.

Mr. Kenney’s actions took courage “because that’s not where some segments of the Labor Council were coming from at that time,” Lowry said.

Mr. Kenney died Tuesday at his home in Seattle after a long illness. He was 82. He was surrounded by his wife, former state Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, and his children.

Mr. Kenney was born in Chicago on May 15, 1930, and was raised in the Bremerton area, where he graduated from Bremerton High School in 1947, according to the Labor Council. He worked for 17 years as a newspaper and job-shop printer.

He earned a degree in economics from the University of Washington and after graduation worked as a certified public accountant.

Mr. Kenney was hired by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, in 1969 to serve as research director. He met Phyllis in 1975 after former Gov. Dan Evans had appointed them both to a state employment and training board. The two were married in 1977.

Mr. Kenney was elected Labor Council secretary-treasurer, serving from 1980 to 1986, with then-President Marvin Williams. Then, in 1986, he was elected council president, a position he held until 1993.

After retiring from that post, Mr. Kenney served on the Washington State Board of Tax Appeals 1993-99 and on the executive board of Energy Northwest since 2000.

Mr. Kenney was Labor Council president when Lowry was governor.

Lowry said Mr. Kenney took on the rights of farmworkers “because it was the right thing to do. Here was a significant number of workers without adequate labor protection. There was great improvement due to Larry’s leadership,” he said.

Lupe Gamboa, a former regional director for the United Farm Workers union, said that, “Largely because of Larry Kenney, Washington state farmworkers now enjoy the best minimum-wage laws in the nation and have gained other protections under the law that exceed those in almost all other states, including child labor, pesticide protection, and health and safety laws.”

Mr. Kenney “used to say that his biggest achievement as head of the (Labor Council) was ending the legal discrimination once faced by farmworkers,” Gamboa wrote. “His leadership and political courage has helped improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmworkers annually.”

Mr. Kenney also was a big supporter of women and women’s rights and hired many women while head of the council, Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney said. “There were a lot of them he mentored and took under his wing,” she said.

In addition to being a longtime member of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, Mr. Kenney previously served on Gov. Booth Gardner’s Council of Economic Advisers, the Governor’s Commission on Accountability and Efficiency in State Government, and the Economic Development Alliance of Washington, among other boards and organizations.

He also was a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants.

He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; two children, Karen Brooks and Brian Kenney; eight stepchildren, Rosemary Shanah, Greg Maltos, Elizabeth Maltos, Barbara Pisca, Gabriel Maltos, Rebecca Maltos Carl, Jonathan Maltos and Nathan Maltos; a brother, Edward Heavey, and 21 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

A public memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. June 1 at the Mountaineers, 7700 Sand Point Way N.E. in Seattle.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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