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Early activism scores big win against anti-union bills in Utah

Photo credit: Mark McCullough
Early activism scores big win against anti-union bills in Utah
By Mark McCullough ·

SALT LAKE CITY – With legislative sessions lasting just 45 days, bills move fast in Utah. So when the members of AFSCME Local 1004 learned of legislation that would hurt their union’s ability to operate effectively, they sprang into action to stop it.

“We knew that we had no time to waste,” said Jerry Philpot, an airfield electrician for Salt Lake City and president of Local 1004. “We knew that they were trying to weaken our union voice by limiting our rights and freedoms. But they were not ready for how quickly we would speak up and how loud we were ready to be.”

HB 241 would have prohibited members from holding any union meetings at public buildings and stopped the deduction of union dues from members’ paychecks.

“HB 241 was nothing short that an attempt to make public service workers second-class citizens,” said Philpot. “It’s my right to spend my paycheck as I see fit. If I want to speak up about the work I do for our airport to make sure it is done right the first time, why should I not be allowed to? It was an attack on our freedoms and we made sure legislators knew that.”

Union members quickly launched an online petition in conjunction with allied organizations that are part of the Working Families of Utah coalition. They reached out to co-workers to hold special meetings to review the legislation and recorded videos telling their stories and explaining why the legislation was wrong.

The activism quickly threw water as cold as the Utah winter on efforts to steamroll the bill through, and it ultimately remained stuck in committee. But there was still more work to do.

HB 412 was intended to make all state employees "at will" and abolish career service rights. In exchange for the promises of pay and benefit incentives, state employees would have to relinquish their career status position.

Once again, members mobilized with a petition and outreach to legislators. And once again, Local 1004 won. The bill was defeated in the Utah House of Representatives 30 to 44.

Members acted decisively because they were sobered by the passage of one piece of bad legislation – the state’s new school voucher law. Despite opposition from working families, unions and school boards, the bill was passed and signed into law in just 12 days.

But Local 1004’s members were encouraged by the victories against the two anti-union bills.

“There is no question that this session has proven that we are AFSCME strong here in Utah,” said Philpot. “Victories like these are exactly what we can take to our co-workers and show them and say, ‘Hey, look at what we got done and just think of what we could do when you add your voice and sign up as a member.’ The future is bright for us here in Utah.”

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