Workers of Utah unite — for a day of food and fun
By Marissa Lang
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Sep 01 2014 06:00PM
Magna • Under a blue canopy at the annual Labor Day picnic, a debate was raging.
Union workers here were attempting to resolve a fundamental difference of opinion between two men.
No, they weren’t arguing about minimum wage, workers’ benefits, labor or Utah being a right-to-work state.
They were hashing out the pros and cons of putting ketchup versus mustard on hot dogs.
It was par for the course at Monday’s annual celebration, where laborers and Utah unions basked in the glow of a holiday meant to honor the American worker but steered clear of politicizing the event.
"It’s a celebration," said Doug Underwood, vice president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union. "Unions, labor, that’s what America is built on. But today, we’re just having ourselves a barbecue."
At times, the only evidence of the festivities’ labor roots were the signs hung over food booths, games and rides.
"Union labor," one read. "The folks who brought you the weekend."
Politicians, including Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Utah attorney general Democratic candidate Charles Stormont, made the rounds, shaking hands and posing for photos.
Others — such as Utah Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, and Michael D. Lee, the Democratic candidate for House District 30 — greeted constituents and potential voters as they doled out flavored ice and cotton candy.
Volunteers with clipboards registered people to vote.
But that’s not what the day was for, union officials said.
"This is a picnic," said Terry Olsen, the former business agent of Elevator Constructors Union, Local 38. "It’s nice to get the word out that unions aren’t the bad guy, that we help everybody. But this isn’t a day for politics."
The children of union and nonunion workers took in the day atop bounce houses and giant slides. Hundreds of people milled throughout Magna’s Copper Park, playing games, admiring antique cars and listening to a woman in a bright floral dress croon crowd favorites like "Twist and Shout" and "Old Time Rock and Roll."
For the union workers, it was a chance to show Utah that they’re still here, despite the state being historically less-than-friendly to unions.
About a dozen unions had booths, tents and signs set up as workers wore shirts that showcased their local union numbers.
"It’s our day in the sun," said Wilk Bryson, the president of the Sheet Metal Workers union, Local 312. "We get some exposure to folks who might not know or might not think about the fact that we exist."
As he spoke, two firefighters wandered into the Sheet Metal Workers’ cookout.
"What can we buy here?" one asked.
"Not a thing," Bryson said, smiling. "Grab a plate. We got brats."
It was a day that also fostered camaraderie among unions and workers, officials said.
"You’ve got the steelworkers talking to the firefighters, talking to the police union, talking to the teachers and the sprinkler union — that’s where the good stuff happens," said Tony Allred, of the Salt Lake City Firefighters Association, Local 1645. "We realize we’re all dealing with the same challenges and issues in the workplace — that, in a lot of ways, we’re all in this together."