McEntee: Standing with the unions
As rallies go, the one that filled the steps of the Utah Capitol wasn't even close to the 70,000 people who flooded the grounds of the Wisconsin Capitol on Saturday.
But what that gathering, comprising union members and their supporters, lacked in size was more than compensated for by its energy and conviction.
The rally was held in support of union women and men not only in Wisconsin but in every state where well-financed union-busters have seized political power. Roughly 300 people withstood freezing temperatures and driving snow as they waved placards, chanted, sang and listened to speeches both fiery and contemplative.
"The Wisconsin 14 rocks," read one sign. "Remove Walker Gaddafi out of Wisconsin," read another.
I decided to go because long ago I was a dues-paying member of the Wire Service Guild. More importantly, I wanted to hear from Utahns who labor as electricians, steelworkers, government employees, teachers, cops and firefighters who have fought for their rights in a right-to-work state whose leaders routinely dismiss union workers as noisy irritants.
One was retired teacher Debbie White, who taught sixth grade for 30 years in the Granite School District and was involved in the Utah Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and a board member of theAFL-CIO in Utah.
"We need to start going out and start educating people about what a union is," she said. "A union, and my job as a teacher, are kind of the same thing. We want to lift everybody up to the highest point.
"We're not wanting to be petty about bringing everybody down. We want to make sure we bring everybody up," she added.
Then there was Brandt Goble, business manager for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 77, who laughingly said, "I am an organizer. And I like to tell people that being an organizer in Utah is like being an LDS missionary at the Vatican. Nothin' but opportunity."
Now, I'm well aware that a lot of Utahns, like their counterparts in the rest of the country, are inclined to think of union members as somehow being pampered, overpaid and having bank-busting benefits.
Tell that to the men and women who work in the dark reaches of Utah coal mines, or who labor on highways as cars speed by just a few feet away. Or to the teachers who don't make nearly enough money, but spend it on supplies and learning materials for the children in their classrooms.
When I was working for the AP, it was not just expected but demanded that we give our every working hour the best we had in skill, news judgment and ethical thinking.
And like my colleagues, I groused that the Guild didn't do nearly enough for us. But we all knew that without it, our wages and benefits would be at risk in a news organization that even then was running as lean as it could.
"We're here today to defend the American dream," boomed Clark Newhall, a Salt Lake physician and attorney and former union member. "Hear it loud, hear it proud, get up and fight back."
So, yes, I stand with the unions of today, and with all those in Wisconsin who not only face pay and benefit cuts but the abolition of the long-standing right to collective bargaining. And I walk with all those people, union or not, who are flooding the nation's streets in solidarity with the generations whose labor built this nation.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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