LANSING - Several thousand union members marched to the steps of the State Capitol Sept. 19, getting the attention of lawmakers with union banners, shirts, flags, placards - and a microphone.
"We deserve a state government that works for working people in this state," Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney told the crowd. "We deserve a governor and a legislature that values our values. That's what our message is: we want to change this government."
The vast majority of ralliers were from the building trades, many of whom sacrificed a half or full day's pay to take part in the event.
With Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Granholm out of town, the featured speaker was her choice for lieutenant governor, John Cherry. The son of an IBEW member, Cherry told the crowd how his dad's income had put food on his table, and allowed him the "opportunity to succeed in life" as he became a state senator.
Cherry related how frustrating it has been for Democrats during the last 12 years of the Engler Administration - the Senate has always had a Republican majority, and during that time the state House has only briefly been in Democratic control.
"It's tough being in this building in a minority party for all those years," Cherry said. "We've watched Republicans dismantle health and safety regulations, but that's about to change. They've played havoc with unemployment compensation. That's about to change. They've handcuffed funding for public schools and limited access to health care, and that's about to change.
"The fact is, the winds of change are blowing across this state, and it's starting to look like a hurricane by the name of Jennifer Granholm."
Recognizing the importance of the issue of gun owners' rights in the building trades, Cherry worked to dispel any doubts about where he and Granholm stand on the issue. Cherry is an avid hunter who hosts sporting clay tournaments every year.
"The last thing Jennifer Granholm wants to do is take away your right to bear arms or your right to hunt," he said. "We support the rights of sportsmen and women to own firearms for hunting and for personal protection. Let there never be a question that Granholm/Cherry will do anything to take away your right to bear arms."
Cherry said Granholm will further support working people by creating a scholarship to help lower- and middle-class school children. She will fight Engler's effort to privatize Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"Nov. 5 is Election Day, but it's also freedom day," Cherry said. "When you vote, you can free yourself from the regressive policies of the last 12 years."
Also on the dais was democratic candidate for attorney general, Gary Peters.
"I will fight for you to enforce prevailing wage in this state," Peters said. "I will fight to keep your workplace safe and to put some teeth in MIOSHA. I will fight for pensions and good wages and safety issues. I'm also proud to say that I'm a hunter, I've hunted with Sen. Cherry and I will fight to preserve your gun rights. Let me take your case in November."
Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch said building trade union members "don't need another eight years with a governor who has partnered with the ABC."
"Gov. Engler has touted his fiscal policies and has bragged about the budget surpluses and tax cuts," Boensch said. "Next year the government is faced with a projected deficit of $1 billion - that's with a 'b' The solid fiscal footing of the state has crumbled. We must rebuild a government that will work for us as citizens. The groundbreaking is on Nov. 5."
THE DEMOCRACTIC candidate for lieutenant governor, John Cherry, told the Sept. 19 labor rally on the Capitol steps in Lansing that Republicans use gun owners' rights as a wedge issue to scare gun-owning Democrats. "The last thing Jennifer Granholm wants to do is take away your right to bear arms or your right to hunt," Cherry told the crowd.