Commitment to Community Leads West Virginia Rep to the State Senate

Orphy Klempa first learned the value of unions as a child watching his father tend bar at the family’s tavern in Ohio. On Fridays, workers from area mills and factories would pack the place and cash their paychecks, amazing the young Klempa.

“All of these guys were cashing big checks,” Klempa recalled. “I asked how they were making such money, and my dad said, ‘It’s because they belong to a union.’”

Klempa remembered that lesson when it was time for him to go out into the world.

“I’ve been fortunate that every job I’ve had, except delivering papers, has been union,” said Klempa, who worked at a toy factory, glass factory, and underground in a coal mine—all union jobs—before joining the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in 1974.

Today Klempa is found on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River, serving as a Democratic member of the state Senate and as a representative for the UBC’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Council. He regularly promotes unions to his legislative colleagues and his constituents in the state’s northern panhandle.

“You’re talking to a guy who has worked union his whole life, and I’d be nowhere near where I am today if it weren’t for the union,” said Klempa, a member of Local 3 in Wheeling.


An Early Start in Community Involvement

Klempa’s path to the state house in Charleston began when he became a union representative 16 years ago. If there was a community group that he didn’t join, it was probably because he hadn’t heard of it.

Some of the organizations to which he has lent time include: the Ohio Valley Medical Center, the Wheeling Area chamber of Commerce, the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Ohio County Development Authority, West Virginia Northern Community College, and the United Way.

“As a representative of the Carpenters, I learned early on that it was important to be involved in the community,” Klempa said. “People have to be aware of the organization. They have to have some connection.”

He is particularly proud of his work with Project BEST—Building Efficiency By Striving Together, a labor-management group representing 500 contractors and 6,000 craftspeople in the Upper

 

Orphy Klempa, center, is surrounded by family, including his wife Mary Jo, to his right. The couple has five grown children and eight grandchildren.
Ohio Valley. It’s known for promoting jobsite safety, supporting education, and improving labor-management relations.

“We all have a stake in this game,” said Klempa, who serves as Project BEST labor co-chair. “The key to being a successful labor organization is the people you work for have to be successful.”

Klempa has also held office at his local, taught at the training center, and was an officer in the Ohio Valley Building and Construction Trades Council

“Orphy’s resume is a pedigree for supporting working people,” said Mike Caputo, majority whip in the West Virginia House of Delegates, where Klempa served two terms before being elected to the state Senate in 2010.

Klempa said his career in politics is an outgrowth of his long history of community involvement.

“Politics governs what you do every waking moment of your life,” Klempa said,

“Whether you’re talking union member, council representative, elected official, or family man, Orphy sets a good example.”

Bill Halbert, executive secretary-treasurer of the Mid-Atlantic council (photo, at right)

 

One of the biggest hot-button political issues in West Virginia these days is how best to regulate the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom. A Marshall University study predicts 7,600 new jobs will be created and $2.35 billion of business activity generated in the state over the next three years as natural gas is extracted from rock formations deep beneath the earth.

Klempa serves on an interim joint select committee studying the shale issue and vows that the interests of West Virginians will be better served than in the coal boom of the late 19th century.

“The [natural gas] deals must benefit the working families of West Virginia,” Klempa said. “I view my position in state government as making sure the worker’s voice is heard.”

 

Defender of the Middle Class

 

Among the mementos in Orphy Klempa’s state Senate offices, one carries special meaning: the Defender of the Middle Class Award.

“It’s the first thing people see when they come in,” Klempa said. “And it’s there for me, too. It’s who I represent: the working men and women of West Virginia.”

The award is given annually to elected officials who have proven to be outstanding advocates for policies and programs that protect and expand the middle class. In the photo, right, Klempa stands with fellow recipient, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The honor is bestowed by the Defenders of the American Middle Class, which conducts research and advocacy on issues of importance to working families living within the UBC Mid-Atlantic Regional Council’s jurisdiction. Klempa won the award in 2010.

“Whether you’re talking union member, council representative, elected official, or family man, Orphy sets a good example,” said Bill Halbert, executive secretary-treasurer of the Mid-Atlantic council.