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Inflatable sharks and Facebook: Utah's unions reflect and relax
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Magna • When Christi Varney landed a job in traffic enforcement at the Salt Lake City International Airport, she was happy to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"My job is usually a male job," she said. "There's no way I'd be making what my male counterparts are if I wasn't a member."

Varney was one of hundreds of union workers, from bricklayers to letter carriers, who gathered with their families at the Magna Copper Park on Monday for a Labor Day picnic organized by the Utah AFL-CIO. Members reflected on the accomplishments of organized labor, including holidays, child-labor laws and the 40-hour workweek, and considered its future.

For UPS driver and Teamsters member Britt Miller, that future includes Facebook.

"There's no direction manual on this yet, so everyone is making it up as they go along," said Miller, who manages the Facebook page for Local 222. It has about 520 likes so far, but he said most union outreach still happens in person.

"Face to face is where … you can ask questions, answer questions and address concerns," he said. Though Utah has a relatively low number of organized workers — the percentages have slipped from 6.2 percent to 5.2 percent in about a decade — they said Monday that membership gives them security in wages, benefits and employment.

"I wouldn't have a little one like this without the union," said Mike McDonald, who wore a white cowboy hat and checkered shirt as he held his 10-month-old grandson, Jace, on this lap.

"We're not rich, but we have a living wage" that helped pay for things like hockey for their children, said his wife, Sandra McDonald.

The business manager and former president of Ironworkers Local 27, Mike McDonald is the son of a union worker and counts more members among his children and grandchildren, including 23-year-old namesake Michael McDonald, an apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who joined a year ago.

"As long as you're working hard, you'll have a job," said the younger McDonald, who has worked on data centers for Xactware, eBay and Beehive Data. "It's something to work toward — you'll have a lifetime skill."

For others, though, all that was far in the future. Three-year-old Tristan Harding, whose grandfather is a union electrician, was just excited to slide down a giant inflatable shark.

"As we were driving up, he just said, 'Oh, I want to go on the shark,' " said his mother, Mindy Harding of West Valley City. While she knows that her father's union has helped him find work during recent lean times, for her children, Labor Day picnics are also about fish ponds, firetrucks and memories.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

As union membership falls in Utah, members praise the security that organized labor brings.
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