The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 24, 2018

Governor's race is labor's best chance to have impact again

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Michigan has experienced eight years of complete Republican control in the state Capitol, and to show for it, organized labor has endured the imposition of a right-to-work law, cuts to unemployment compensation, weakening of apprenticeship and professional licensing standards, reductions in teacher pensions, and the repeal of the state's prevailing wage law.

The next opportunity to change the fortunes of organized labor will be in the Nov. 6 general election, when the seats in the state Senate, House and the governor's office will be on the statewide ballot. That's in addition to seats up for grabs in the U.S. House, Senate and various judgeships, among others. 

But it's the contest for governor, featuring the race between Democratic nominee Gretchen Whitmer and Republican William Schuette, which will have the most immediate impact on labor. Both the House and Senate in the state Legislature are, on the whole, made up of strong ideological conservatives, and they have already done so much damage to the state's labor unions and working people. Guided by conservative think-tanks and big-money backers, they have proven themselves willing and able to come up with new ways to harm workers and help corporations.

"A year ago this month, our council was the first labor organization to endorse Gretchen Whitmer for governor," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "Then, as now, we knew that Gretchen was the right candidate to fight for working people in Lansing. "She knows how things work in Lansing, she was literally there every step of the way with us inside the Capitol Building and on the rally of the Capitol steps when we opposed the right-to-work in 2012."

At the ballot box on Nov. 6, it may be too much of a heavy lift to overturn the tremendous conservative majorities in both the state House and Senate this November, but the threat of Whitmer's veto as governor would put a stop, finally, to the anti-worker legislation.  

Whitmer, 47, served in the state Senate from 2006 to 2014, and was minority leader for the final three years of her term. She also served in the state House from 2000 to 2006. The East Lansing native has a law degree from Michigan State University. 

"People used to come to Michigan from all over the world for a good job, great schools, clean water, safe roads," Whitmer said the day after the election. "And we are behind, dangerously behind, on all four of those important factors that tell you how well people are doing. And that's what this is all about. I stayed focus on the issues, ran a positive campaign and I think the results speak for themselves."

Whitmer defeated Democratic challengers Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar to get the party's nomination. Whitmer had 52 percent of the vote, compared with 30 percent for El-Sayed and 18 percent for Shri Thanedar.

In the Republican race, Schuette, the state's attorney general, won his place on the Republican ballot with 51 percent of the vote while Lt. Gov. Brian Calley trailed with 25 percent.

"Gretchen Whitmer’s win in the Democratic primary was a big victory for the working people of Michigan," said state AFl_CIO President Ron Bieber. "From her first day in office to throwing open the doors to the Capitol to allow protesters in during the fight against right-to-work, to the platform of her gubernatorial campaign, Gretchen has been a defender of our freedoms as working men and women. 

"Whitmer ran a positive primary campaign, sticking to the issues she knew were on the minds of Michigan residents. She talked about getting corporate greed out of our education system and making sure our children have a fair chance of earning a degree or learning a trade. She talked about making sure people have clean water coming out of their faucets. She talked about the rights of working people and building an economy that works for everyone. And, of course, she talked about fixing the roads."

Midland native Schuette, 64, also has a law degree. He has been Michigan's attorney general since 2011. He has also served three terms in the U.S. House and lost in a bid to unseat Michigan Sen. Carl Levin in 1990.

When it comes to issues related to organized labor, Schuette and Whitmer are polar opposites. Schuette supported the state's right-to-work law and the repeal of the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. In 2012, after the passage of the state's right-to-work law, Schuette chose to file court documents that argued the new RTW law does apply to state workers. State employee unions argued that the state Civil Service Commission regulate conditions of employment for state employees. The unions lost that argument in the courts.

In 2016, Schuette chose to sign onto a lawsuit with 21 states to stop the Obama administration’s new overtime rule, which would have put more money into the pockets of workers by extending mandatory overtime pay to 100,000 Michigan workers. 

Speaking to the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's Legislative Conference in March, Whitmer pointed out all the attacks on organized labor, including the reduction in unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks signed into law by the Snyder Administration. "Now let's talk about how we're going to get more people into the trades because that's a nice talking point for a lot of people in Lansing," Whitmer said. "They're the same people who then push for attacks on prevailing wage. If we're going to lure more people into the trades, we have to start treating tradespeople with respect. We have to start treating unions with respect. That means no more attacks on you. Hey, what if we recognize your right to collectively bargain? What if we recognize how important it is that we re-establish the 26 weeks? What if we stop the continuous attacks on benefits in the public sector workforce?"