Reese: Vote for Pro-Labor Candidates this Fall


(Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Isaac Reese, Opinion Writer


Utah, a right-to-work state, isn’t known for having a strong labor union presence despite having a long history with the labor movement. In the early 1900s, Murray elected socialist candidates to city government — thanks to the era’s labor movement. Utah is now the third-lowest state in union membership rate. There is still an active labor presence in Utah politics with a state chapter of the AFL-CIO along with independent unions routinely giving political endorsements. Unions play an important part in our community, and we deserve legislators who will strengthen them.

Utah House District 45

Wendy Davis is running against Republican incumbent Steve Eliason. Despite Eliason’s AFL-CIO endorsement, Davis is the best candidate for labor. Davis is endorsed by 11 unions that are independent from the AFL-CIO — each coming from a wide variety of trades — showing that she will be a strong voice for working families and strong jobs. Davis, whose career has been in education and the nonprofit sector, is needed to help bring balance to a state legislature saturated with businesspeople and lawyers. House District 45 is a legislative district that Davis can win — but not without hard work. In 2018, Eliason ran unopposed during the 2018 midterms, but in 2016, he was challenged by Democrat Nikki Cunard who received 44.92% of the vote. Davis has an uphill battle to make up for the 1,548 vote difference from 2016, but neighboring House District 44 shows that it can happen — Democratic representative Andrew Stoddard unseated former Representative Bruce Cutler in 2018. Davis was raised by a single working-class mother and understands what it means to struggle to pay for basic needs. She will be a fiercer advocate for working families than Eliason, who is a financial manager and accountant by trade.

Utah House District 38

Ashlee Matthews is a Utah Department of Transport employee running for Utah House District 38. Matthews has a focus on helping working-class families, essential workers and unionized workers. She recently tweeted a campaign ad underscoring the attention she’ll have towards working-class people. She is challenging Representative Eric Hutchings, who — despite being endorsed by the Utah AFL-CIO — ironically does not mention unions, workers’ rights or workplace protections anywhere in his Economy & Jobs platform. Representative Hutchings does have a platform rife with pro-business platitudes — anti-regulation, government getting out of the way, no “equal outcomes” for citizens and even an oddly placed anti-United Nations shoutout in the same context — conspicuous in its omission was any mention of the rank-and-file workers who are the backbone of the Utah economy. In 2016, Hutchings won by 922 votes. In 2018, Hutchings barely held on to his seat with only 118 more votes than the Democratic candidate, demonstrating the trend of Utah House Districts in Salt Lake County becoming more competitive in recent years. Matthews has a strong chance to unseat Hutchings, given her genuine concern for working families, which stands in stark contrast to Hutchings and his boilerplate pro-business rhetoric.

Utah House District 43

Matthews’ House District 38 shares a boundary with House District 43 where labor union representative Diane Lewis is challenging incumbent Cheryl Acton. In 2018, Lewis lost to Acton by only 397 votes. That loss stands in stark contrast to the seat’s 2016 election in which Republican Adam Gardiner won by 2,837 votes against Democrat Edgar Harwood. Lewis is endorsed by Utah’s AFL-CIO as well as a number of smaller independent unions. Acton’s record shows her little concern for the working people of Utah. She has voted against increasing affordable housing and funding public transit, both policies that help benefit working-class people. Lewis would be a better legislator than Acton. Her work as a labor representative is dedicated to fighting for those that need an advocate. She knows how to negotiate and work with multiple parties in decision making. Unlike Acton, Lewis will actually work for her constituents’ needs, adding a much-needed voice for labor and working families in the legislature.

Utah’s government is incredibly biased against working-class families. They routinely disregard the contributions and voices of these families, as demonstrated by the backlash the legislature received when they diligently tried to make our already regressive tax code even worse. Our legislators are out of touch with working people. Organized labor in Utah needs to have a greater influence in our politics to help working Utahns. Davis, Matthews and Lewis all have platforms that put those people first. These three will strengthen labor’s influence and improve the livelihood of Utah families.


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