Michigan’s statewide unemployment rate improved a full percentage point to 6.6 percent from January to December . But it is still well above the national jobless rate of 5.6 percent, placing our state among the highest in terms of unemployment rates in the nation.
Even with the lower jobless figures, there are still about 336,000 unemployed workers in Michigan – roughly the same as a year ago, but today, there are 14,000 fewer job positions available.
The loss of good-paying U.S. jobs is at the center of this year’s election debates. And there are numerous seats up for office during this election cycle, including the U.S. presidency, all members of Congress, all state representatives, two state board of education seats, regent positions at Michigan’s major universities, two state supreme court justices seats, as well as appellate, circuit, district and probate judge seats.
Speakers at the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council offered a few comments on what voters can expect this year. Following is a sampling:
Michigan Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch – “We’ve heard a lot about dire straits in the manufacturing industry, a lot of workers’ jobs don’t exist any more.
“But our industry has suffered greatly, too. The average unemployment in Michigan in our industry is about 15 percent, and is upwards of 30 percent. There is 60 percent unemployment in one area. And there’s not a lot of short-term hope or reason that we will be able to clear our benches any time soon.
“We need to get the wheels of industry turning again. We need to talk about jobs here as we lobby in Lansing and in Washington D.C.
“As we prepare for a new election cycle, the stakes couldn’t be any higher.
“The president is trying to put a bright face on the economy, but he has lost more jobs than he has created. I believe President Bush about one thing – he and Vice President Cheney are taking care of business, but they are taking care of big business.
“President Bush pledged to help each and every one of us who wants to work, to help find us a job, but his job is getting bigger every day. This is a president who cannot run from his record; he has to run away from it.”
State Rep. Julie Dennis (D-Muskegon) – “My suggestion to you is to keep your eye on the ball. Don’t let the other stuff keep you from seeing what’s really going on.
I wish President Bush would be as disturbed about losing three million jobs as he is about gay marriage.”
State Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly – “Today the majority of the Michigan Supreme Court sees the world through the eyes of the employer. They see the world differently. They’re John Engler appointees.”
Kelly told delegates about a case where the five majority conservative members of the state’s high court have ruled that a worker who injured his back on the job could not collect workers compensation benefits. The reason: the worker had a pre-existing back injury that healed, which disqualified him for any new benefits.
“Your members need to know the differences between the justices and how their rulings affect the rights of working men and women,” she said.
Dianne Byrum (Michigan Democratic House Leader) – “What you see out of the Bush Administration right now is a campaign to distract voters from the real issues. And the real issues for voters are: how am I going to get a good job? How am I going to provide health care for my family? How is grandma going to afford her prescription drugs?
“He wants to talk about defining marriage. He should be talking about why we are extending NAFTA, and why are we not extending jobless benefits?”
Gene DeRossett, (R-52nd House District) – DeRossett is a moderate Republican who has been helpful to building trades unions on several occasions. A few years ago, his decision to stand up and support the Michigan Prevailing Wage act influenced and won over a handful of other moderate Republicans. Their decision to stand up for prevailing wage saved the law from other Republicans who wanted the law thrown out.
“It was the best-worst day of my political career,” DeRossett told delegates. “Because I had prevented something from happening that I believed in. I did take a lot of abuse for that vote, but when you stand up for what’s right, it’s worth it.” DeRossett has also voted to turn down a waiting week for unemployment benefits.
As punishment, DeRossett said his district was realigned by the Republican Party to have a 73.4 percent new voter base – but he still won re-election handily.
DeRossett who is term-limited in the state House, is running for Congress in the 7th District, which includes Eaton, Calhoun, Branch, Jackson, Hillsdale, Lenawee and part of Washtenaw counties. His candidacy is endorsed by the building trades.
“I can tell you that I will not become part of the Beltway mentality and I will deal with the issues that affect families, that affect jobs, that protects your constitutional rights,” he said.
David Hollister, director, Department of Labor and Economic Growth – Hollister told delegates that the state government has been reorganized under the Granholm Administration and is 20 percent smaller than it was two years ago.
Hollister said the governor directed him to develop a “Grow Michigan Strategy” and the Michigan Building Trades are helping to develop a workforce component of the strategy. Part of that includes helping direct future apprentices into available apprenticeship slots.
Major components of Granholm’s plan, Hollister said, include investing in “human capital” (training workers), encouraging entrepreneurs, and an initiative to create a “single-entry, single-exit” for building projects in Michigan. Hollister said plans call for a system that will allow “one-stop shopping” for building, from getting permits to certificates of occupation.
He said the state is focusing on increasing construction related to residential building in core urban centers and launching a technology corridor to grow businesses like life sciences, alternative energy and homeland security.
“We want to know how to grow these businesses and how to encourage them and how to capitalize them,” Hollister said. “This can only be accomplished through partnerships, and we consider our partnership with labor a critical part of this. We’re focusing on growing this state and there is no better partner in growing this state than organized labor.”
Michigan First Husband Dan Mulhern, (Co-chair of the state Kerry for President Committee) – “More than any president we’ve ever seen, Bush is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This president, a so-called compassionate conservative, has been incredibly deceptive. His economic policies have been deceptive, his tax cuts were unbelievably slanted towards the wealthy in America, and on foreign policy, he has really taken us for a terrible, terrible ride.
“The country ought to be outraged, but there is a bit of a Teflon quality about Bush. It is really time for a change. We have economic policy makers telling us that flipping hamburgers is the same as a manufacturing job. This wasn’t some lackey, this was the president’s chairman of economic advisers saying that outsourcing is a good thing. There is a density in Washington that is unbelievable.
“We have to motivate people and let them know that John Kerry has a 90 percent pro-labor voting record, that he supports organizing efforts, he’s in favor of raising the minimum wage, that he’s in favor of rolling back tax increases for the rich, that he is behind health care reform. People need to know that, people need to know that there’s a substantial difference between the president and John Kerry.”
Mark Gaffney, president, Michigan AFL-CIO – “In the last election cycle, Gore vs. Bush, we had 400,000 more union members than we have today. Every year (the AFL-CIO) lose a half a percentage point or so. We have to make those numbers up somewhere. So one place we’ve gone to is our constituent groups, Hispanic groups, African Americans, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and ask them to find the swing voters in their communities to come our way. In order for that to work, some of your members will have to be part of those constituent groups. You will be hearing more about that.
“The question in this election is who’s running America? Will it be working families? Or will it be wealth and power.
“The Bush agenda is clear, it’s all business, and his agenda is clear, it’s protecting the wealthy. Our members got a tax break of about $365 last year, the wealthy got tens of thousands in each of the next 10 years. His other agenda is to attack workers. He has a department of labor that is actively teaching its employers how to avoid overtime pay.
“A court told him his plan was too extreme to make every single local union file additional paperwork and hire an accountant for the extra paperwork.
“His results are clear, worst job losses since the Depression, largest deficit ever, worst trade imbalance, $1.2 billion every day is the trade imbalance.
“It takes union households to overcome nonunion households, who will vote for George Bush. If we do our job and add 5 percent to our vote, that’s more registered, more turning out and more voting, that’s how John Kerry can beat George Bush.”