LANSING – Chanting “union busting – it’s disgusting” and “take Michigan back,” a throng of about 5,000 from around the state converged on the steps of the Capitol Building on March 16, demanding a reversal to a number of proposals made by Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican lawmakers.
Called for by the Michigan AFL-CIO and a host of affiliated unions, the rally was the largest yet in a series of demonstrations in Lansing seeking to counter 37 anti-worker bills that have been introduced this year by Republican lawmakers. One of them, the Emergency Financial Manager bill, has already been adopted.
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), called on Snyder and Republicans to act on what the governor told the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council earlier this month. Snyder said, “we are not Wisconsin.” Whitmer told the crowd, “I think it’s time he listened to all of you and put these issues to bed. They say we’re not Wisconsin. Then let them prove it.”
Among the anti-labor “issues” referred to by Whitmer are Republican proposals to allow right to work zones in Michigan, eliminate prevailing wage and project labor agreements on taxpayer-funded construction projects, and repeal the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act, which would kill job safety watchdog MIOSHA.
Among the speakers were Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin and President Zane Walker. “I’m proud to be a representative of building trades workers, but I’m not proud of the 50 percent unemployment we’ve had over the last two years.” Devlin said. “And everything that we’ve been attacked with over the last few weeks isn’t going to put anybody back to work, and it isn’t going to save the state any money.”
Walker said “all we’re asking is for a fair deal. This is not a race to the bottom.”
Many in the crowd were also angry about Snyder’s proposed 4 percent tax on pensions and the elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax break which helps low income working people. That’s contrasted with Snyder’s proposal to provide a $1.8 billion tax break to the business community.
With Republican majorities in both the state House and Senate, it’s likely that more anti-worker legislation is going to be passed along with the Emergency Financial Manager bill – potentially with or without Snyder’s signature. That’s because Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the Senate, and it’s still unclear to what extent Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville – who has signaled that he doesn’t support some of the Senate bills – will be willing to fight his own caucus.
Rallies have taken place on the state Capitol Building steps every few days since Snyder announced his budget, and since Republicans started introducing the anti-labor bills. House Democratic Leader Richard Hammel (D-Mt. Morris Twp.) joked that some in the crowd “deserved an office and a parking spot” at the Capitol.
UAW President Bob King exhorted the crowd to be peaceful during the afternoon-long events, and they were. They were noisy, too. Some arrests were made at the end of the day by protesters who refused to leave the Capitol. “What we’re seeing across America is an ongoing attack on the middle class,” King told the crowd.
Likely the most rousing speech was given by Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP. “There is a need for an emergency financial manager, but the emergency is in Lansing and the people need to be the managers,” Anthony said. He added: “Some of the people here voted for the people who are doing this. We have to fix this in 2012.”
Whitmer and Hammel said they would begin an effort to protect collective bargaining rights through an amendment to the state Constitution. Such an amendment would never pass the state House and Senate during this term, where a two-thirds supermajority would be required for passage. But citizens could circulate petitions to place the matter on a general election ballot.
“We didn’t start this fight, but we sure don’t plan to lose it, do we?” Whitmer told the crowd.