Utahns celebrate Labor Day as election looms
With only 63 days before the presidential election, Utah union members attending an annual Labor Day picnic in Magna largely said Monday they support Democratic President Barack Obama's re-election bid, but not without some ambivalence.
The Magna picnic is organized annually by the AFL-CIO, the umbrella group for a number of unions and a traditional supporter of Democrats going back at least to the New Deal and President Franklin Roosevelt.
But even new Utah AFL-CIO President Dale Cox said labor and economic issues should be looked at in terms of which candidates are likely to do the best for the economic well-being of Americans and not strictly by party affiliation.
"We need to quit worrying about whether they are Republican or Democrat and research the issues," he said.
Still, there were no Republican candidates in evidence at the picnic, only Democrats such as gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke, Salt Lake County mayoral candidate Ben McAdams and 2nd Congressional District candidate Jay Seegmiller were there with signs, booths and handshakes.
Cox said the national AFL-CIO has endorsed Obama over Republican Mitt Romney and he believes that's also best for the Utah organization.
"I see no reason not to do the same," said Cox. "Do I think he walks on water? No. But do I think he's got the best interests of the middle class? Yes."
Still, sheet metal worker Rod Gallegos said he's wavering, and leaning toward Romney. His ambivalence toward Obama comes from the president's putting passage of health care reform as his top priority above job creation, Gallegos said.
"I think they should have got the economy strong with jobs before they passed Obamacare," he said. "Without a strong economy, Obamacare won't be anything. We won't be able to pay for it."
The Great Recession began under the administration of President George W. Bush. But the recovery has been especially slow under Obama, with the national jobless rate in July still above 8 percent. That has led the Romney campaign to try to focus voter attention on the economy and jobs.
Gallegos' cousin, Mike Gallegos, said he's considering not voting in the presidential race.
"When they get in [office] they got to clean up a mess that's been going on for 15 years or so," said Mike Gallegos, an employee of the city of Ogden and also owner of a small janitorial business. "I don't care who gets in there, it's just clean up."
Rod Gallegos said that means reversing the years of sending good U.S. jobs overseas.
Donna Martinez was walking around the picnic wearing a "Women for Obama" button. She said the issues for her are both support for the middle class and women's issues, such as pro-choice on abortion.
"I think he actually cares for the family," said Martinez, a mother of two and a Salt Lake City government employee. "He's just not out for the rich."
Most everyone in a smattering of interviews at the Magna picnic identified themselves as members of the middle class but said it was getting harder to maintain a middle class lifestyle.
Cooke, the Democratic candidate for government, said he is coming out this week with a report showing that Utah's economic picture is not as rosy as incumbent Republican Gov. Gary Herbert makes it sound. Counting people who have given up looking for work, unemployment is at 11 percent, not the official rate of 6 percent, Cooke said.
Cooke said he would refocus job creation efforts on small businesses and education and called for a debate with Herbert over economic issues.
Danny Jones, of Taylorsville, an electrical project manager and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said should Romney win, he feared the more right-wing elements of the Republican Party such as the tea party would dictate policy and further erode workers' rights.
"The middle class is shrinking," he said.
A new Gallup poll released Friday showed only 52 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, a far cry from its height at 75 percent in 1957 and below the survey numbers for the past few years, according to the Gallup website.
Cox said unions are misunderstood after years of sustained attacks by conservatives and some businesses.
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