The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 22, 2019

State AFL-CIO's Bieber: now let's create a labor majority in Lansing

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



LANSING - The election of Gretchen Whitmer to Michigan governor and gains of five Democratic seats in both the state House and Senate have brushed aside the anti-union fervor that has taken hold in the state's Capitol Building over the past eight years. 

But that's just a start,  according to Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber, to creating labor-friendly majorities in the state House and Senate. Both are still held by Republican majorities, and many of the same lawmakers remain in office who during the past eight years pretty much checked off every anti-union task on their list.

"We won a lot of races, but we didn't win a majority in either the House or the Senate,"  Bieber told delegates to the 60th Legislative Conference of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "That plays huge in the legislative process up there. We've got a governor as a backstop, to keep more bad stuff from happening, because there's a veto pen now. 

"But I don't know that we're going to be able to get anything big that we want out of this legislature.  We're not going to be able to repeal right-to-work, the majority over there would not let it come in for a vote. We're not going to bring back prevailing wage under this Legislature. And that is just not acceptable. We need to cobble together some sort of workable majority up there with some of the Republicans who will side with us and get what we can for now. And then we really need to push to finish the job in 2020, and get a real labor majority in that Legislature."

Bieber said it's immaterial to him whether the labor backing comes from Democrats or Republicans, "or some semblance of the two. As long as it's a rock-solid labor majority."

One of the many paths back to power for organized labor, Bieber said, could come through the labor federation's program called Path to Power. It is aimed at getting union members to run for office.

He said the Michigan AFL-CIO has a labor candidate program in place this year after having run smaller versions of it in past years, and intend to institutionalize it every cycle. The program offers support and advice to union candidates who seek public office.

On a local level, a union candidate is at least receptive to passing local responsible contractor polices and hiring contractors who pay fair wages and benefits. There's more information at www.miaflcio.org. under the "Take Action" tab.

"I talked a little earlier about getting a labor majority in Lansing. The best way I know how to do that is to elect more labor people to office," Bieber said. "That's why we need to be in this business, we need our members elected to these local offices so that we have a labor seat at the table when these local economic development decisions are made. This is one way we can take action, build our movement and protect our future."