From the start, Utah and labor unions have had a rocky relationship

Posted at 6:35 PM, Sep 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-02 20:35:42-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah and Unions have never been on friendly terms, though it's a lot more civil today than it was one hundred years ago.

In November of 1915, miner, longshoreman and union activist Joe Hill was executed by firing squad at the State Prison that has since been converted to Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City.

Even at the time, the conviction was controversial. Hill wasn't identified by witnesses, and his allies thought he was railroaded because he was part of a militant group called the International Workers of the World, also known as the 'Wobblies.'

Since his death, Hill's legend has grown, largely elevated because he wrote pro-labor songs that have since become staples for such artists as Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, and Joan Baez.

While Utah has never again executed a union leader, Utah political leaders have pursued policies aimed at limiting union influence on business.

In 1955, Utah became the 17th state to pass a right to work law, meaning businesses can't be forced to hire union workers.

Val Hale, director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, says right to work has helped Utah workers by helping Utah business.

"I see it as a positive that we're a right to work state, because I think if you want to go to work for a company, they can hire you," Hale said.

Hale and Gov. Gary Herbert point to strong employment numbers and a diverse economy as evidence that pro-business policies create a positive work environment.

They also promote Utah's first-in-the-nation ratings by Forbes magazine, among other publications, as a business friendly state.

Forbes definition of "business friendly" is in line with Utah Policy, saying its most important criteria is "cost of business," which values inexpensive labor more than any other factor.

Still, Hale says a thriving economy also protects workers.

"Employers know when the economy is doing this well that they better keep their employees happy because, guess what, if they don't the employee will go somewhere else," Hale said.