H-SANTA BARBARA

Mar 7, 2011 11:42 PM by Ariel Wesler

Local unions rally behind midwest protesters

Union protests in Wisconsin and Ohio are sparking activism right here at home.

The Santa Barbara County Democrats rallied today in front of he county building in Santa Barbara. They say conservatives are blaming unions for the region's economic troubles, but some taxpayers argue the cost of a county employee is just too high and needs to be capped.

County democrats are uniting with union workers in Santa Barbara to fight against the stigma they say conservatives are promoting.

"Because union is not a dirty word. Because public employee is not a dirty word," said Daraka Larimore, Chair of the Santa Barbara County Democrats.

Supporters point to the benefits to all workers that have grown out of organized labor.

"8 hour days. 40 hour weeks. Pensions. Overtime. Time off that we receive. All of those things came from the unions," said Jim Macmillan, a Santa Barbara resident.

Speakers from various unions for public workers, including the SEIU, argued they are not the high paid some of their counterparts in the private sector think they are.

"I'm not wealthier for being a public employee. I'm less wealthy because if I was in private practice, I would be making three times what I make now," said Public Defender and SEIU worker Deedrea Edgar.

"The people who keep our parks beautiful are public employees. The people who watch the children in the after-school programs are public employees, and it's not their fault that the economy had a downturn," Larimore said.

While unions point to Wall Street and large corporations for the economic downfall, opponents argue public employees need to take their fair share of cuts during these tough times.

"The main message is if you look at the total cost of a county employee, it's gone up during this recession when in the private sector there were decreases to most employees," said Former County Supervisor Mike Stoker at a meeting last month.

Another woman at the rally says she wants to ensure her grandkids have a fair workplace.

"They're 19-years-old and I do this for them," said Lois Hamilton of Santa Barbara. "I don't know what's going to happen to their future if we don't stand up."

Opponents say four years ago the average cost of a county employee was around $91,000. This year, it's projected to be about $129,000. The county is currently facing a deficit of at least $72 million.

The Santa Barbara County Democrats also hosted a candlelight vigil and another rally tonight at 6 p.m. at De La Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara.

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