SALT LAKE CITY — Ralliers filled the steps of the state Capitol Saturday morning, showing support for organized labor and advancing Monday's "We Are One" events across the country that will remember the April 4, 1968, assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Wisconsin continues to be a focal point to workers' rights issues because of a partisan effort to curb most state workers' collective-bargaining rights as a way of cutting wages. Similar actions followed Ohio and are on the legislative agenda in Florida as cash-strapped states look for ways to improve their bottom line.
In Utah, unions see threats from the Legislature, including the recently repealed HB 477, which would have limited the public's access to communications involving state lawmakers.
Jim Judd, president of the Utah AFL-CIO, said lawmakers are taking advantage of a down economy to attack the wages of the middle class. "The sad part is many of these administrators, governors and state legislators are looking at taking away a long-established process where they get together, discuss, meet and confer over issues and make decisions, in favor of governors being able to unilaterally impose their will on those employees."
The AFL-CIO said, in promoting the rally, its voice is being raised against "well-funded, right-wing corporate politicians."
A disposition among lawmakers to move their conversation farther from public view compounds the concern, Judd said. "If we lose that access, and our ability as the public to communicate with our legislators, we've got a problem."
Almost all of those attending the rally at the Capitol Saturday were also participants, who crowded the Capitol's main south steps while speakers addressed the group.
"When you look at the turnout, on a Saturday, during conference weekend, I think it speaks for itself," said Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh. "Today we are gathering in support of our colleagues and working middle (class) Americans across the country."
"This past legislative session, in education, we have seen attacks on our rights as an organization, as UEA, to be able to organize our teachers. We are seeing attacks on us," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, said Saturday's rally is a good match with civil rights initiatives that are being recognized in rallies on Monday. "The NAACP and the labor unions have always worked together. Our struggles have been identical."
Williams said Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis to demonstrate with sanitation workers when he was assassinated. The "We Are One" rally in Utah is a kickoff to other events around the country.
"We wanted to do it today instead of Monday. The reason why is Mondays in Utah are a little difficult, and we thought we may not be able to get the crowd out on a Monday evening as we would on a Saturday morning."