SALT LAKE CITY — An estimated 4,000 people gathered on the steps of the Utah State Capitol Saturday to rally against legislative proposals that would reduce retirement benefits for public employees in Utah.
Holding signs asking the government to slow down and keep Utah competitive, police officers, firefighters, teachers and other public employees who will be affected if the proposed bills pass were joined by a number of private-sector workers who understand the seriousness of the issue.
"This issue has brought together every group representing employees in the state of Utah," said Jim Judd, president of Utah AFL-CIO.
Judd expressed his concern at the speed with which the legislation is progressing.
"We would like to see them slow down and take a good look at what is going on," Judd said. "Retirement needs to look at a long-term proposal."
Judd said leaders are hasty in that they are not waiting for the findings of a second actuarial report and are basing their decisions solely on the first actuarial report.
"You wouldn't schedule a surgery before you got a second opinion, would you?" Judd asked. "Then again, they usually do surgery with a scalpel and not a machete."
Signs at the rally also addressed the issue of competition.
"Utah will not be competitive in the public employee sector if this passes," Judd said. "The thing that keeps people in those positions is the fact that they have a solid retirement to count on. Without being competitive we don't hold good people in positions."
Rachel Martinez, a teacher from Salt Lake City, said she went to the rally because she is concerned about how quickly and seriously the bills are being considered.
"This is important and not just because I care about my retirement, but I care about the retirement for future teachers," Martinez said. "I just want to ask them to not make a drastic change on the economy. Retirement is not broken."
The Senate Retirement Committee will meet Wednesday at noon to discuss the three bills — SB43, SB63 and SB94 — all of which deal with changes to the retirement system that will affect the nearly 182,000 public employees covered by the retirement system. SB63 also deals with any future employees.
Deb McBride, president of the Utah Public Employees' Association and a sponsor of the rally, showed up Saturday to represent public employees.
"Hopefully it got the attention of some of the legislators that maybe didn't understand the full impact of the details," McBride said of the rally. "They take their time with health care reform. They take their time with ethics reform. But with retirement reform they're just jumping in with both feet."
Sherry Baranowski, of Salt Lake City, is a para-educator who was only recently offered retirement for her job. She said attending the rally allowed her to join with other people in standing up for what she has earned as a public employee.
"I think we showed the legislators that we can pull together, that we are a force," Baranowski said.
The other sponsors of the rally were the Utah Education Association, the Utah School Employee's Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.
e-mail: [email protected]