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Thousands speak out for workers’ rights during Charleston rally

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The statehouse steps were packed with nearly 7,000 union workers from across West Virginia during Saturday’s rally to fight back against legislation such as prevailing wage, right-to-work, public charter schools, and coal mine safety.

Chanting and yelling was heard from union leaders, iron workers, general laborers, school teachers, and coal miners during the “Mountaineer Workers Rising” rally.

Speakers urged members of organized labor not only to register, but to vote in the 2016 election. Chris Kulo of Wheeling said they need to go back home to their communities, get everyone local involved to vote, and put an end to right-to-work.

“Prevailing wage will cut my wages in half and I won’t be able to support my family anymore,” said Kulo.

Many workers agreed the possible changes to prevailing wage would hurt families.

Kathy Ashby of Boone County said she has witnessed many people who are struggling where she lives. She said too many people are on welfare and disability who do not deserve to be.

“Without the unions and the coal mines, West Virginia is nothing,” said Ashby.

Ashby said she felt that having a job with benefits allows West Virginians to be self sufficient. She said jobs that provide benefits take care of the people of West Virginia and that the younger generation needs to open their eyes to what the future holds for union workers.

“I think it’s coming to a point where the corporations and the companies are after more than what they already get,” said David Lett, an operating engineer from Poca, “They’re taking it out on the workers in order to try to gain that extra little bit.”

Lett said they need to stand together at this point to fight the right-to-work legislation. Union or non-union, he said they set a standard for the state.

State lawmakers made an appearance at the rally Saturday afternoon, but did not speak to the crowd.

The change in prevailing wage bill and the Coal Jobs Safety Act is awaiting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s signature after passing both the House and Senate. The bill to create public charter schools is before the House Finance Committee and the right-to-work bill is dead for this session.

The Regular Legislative Session ends next Saturday night.

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