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Utah Unions Advocate For Employee Safety, Aid During Pandemic

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The USANA Amphitheater in West Valley City, Utah in 2018. The IATSE Local 99 represents behind-the-scenes workers in live event and entertainment production and is trying to ensure new safety measures for members when they return to work after the pandemic.

Utah has one of the lowest union membership rates in the nation. One reason for that is the state’s right-to-work law, which prevents unions from requiring employees to pay membership dues.

But unions are still working to support Utahns during the coronavirus pandemic.

As essential employees, first responders have worked continuously throughout the pandemic.

The Utah Fraternal Order of Police is the state’s largest police union. Ian Adams, executive director of the organization, said its role has been to fill the gaps where local agencies don’t have the bandwidth.

“Where we helped with that was setting up a volunteer network for first responders,” Adams said, “where families were willing to take in the children of other first-responder families who were being called to work even greater hours as their colleagues were put into quarantine or fell ill.”

But for industries that have yet to return to work, unions’ roles have been a little different.

The IATSE Local 99 represents behind-the-scenes workers in live events and entertainment production. Union Representative Peter Marley said members and non-unionized employees have collaborated to demand safety measures for when they do get back to work.

“We all need these protections,” Marley said. “One of the things that I think we’ve learned is that when people band together and when people form partnerships with each other, we become stronger.”

Although the coronavirus pandemic has drawn comparisons to the 1918 flu pandemic, Matthew Basso, a history professor at the University of Utah, said it reminds him more of the Great Depression era, after which unions really took off.

Basso said the pandemic could push workers to organize like that again.

“With the economic challenges that folks are facing, with the enormous difficulty that a lot of people have on paying rent, on putting food on the table, on putting clothes on their family’s back,” he said. “This could be a spark.”

Emily Means covers politics for KUER. Follow Emily on Twitter @Em_Means13

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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