The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 23, 2018

Time for labor to start taking offense, stays state AFL-CIO president

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - "It's time to drop our shield, pick up our sword and go on offense for a while."

That's not an original quote from Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber, but it summed up his philosophy of the way organized labor should look at this year's election cycle in state and federal governments. Bieber's reasoning wasn't falling far from the tree: he was quoting national AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, who is pushing for an aggressive response to the tidal wave of anti-labor laws and legislation that has sprung up in Congress and state governments around the country.

"Working people are still under attack in Michigan," Bieber said on March 6 to delegates of the 59th Legislative Conference of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "We're under attack by billionaires and wealthy corporations that want to rig the rules of the economy. And we're under attack by no-good rat-bastard contractors who want to take away prevailing wage. And worst of all we're under attack by politicians who work for them. I'm sick and tired of all the b.s. coming out of Lansing and Washington, and as trade unionists, it's time for us to stand up with one clear voice and say enough is enough."

Bieber said the state AFL-CIO is fighting back by getting back to the basic things that organized labor has always done. Talking to each other, member to member. Urging more union members to run for office. And by reminding lawmakers they work for the people, not for the corporate leaders who are providing contributions to their campaigns. 

"Over the last eight years, I can't tell you how many times I have stood on that Capitol lawn fighting against some damn dirty stuff that they were trying to jam down the throats of working people," Bieber said. "I want to go up there and fight for some things that will help us for a change. 

"And that is what 2018 needs to be about: going on offense, taking names and kicking asses. It starts by sending a simple message to every candidate in Michigan: if you actually think it's a good idea to repeal prevailing wage and take money out of the pockets of Michigan's skilled trades men and women, or if you take so much as a dime from those rotten bastards who are pushing for it, you're an enemy of working people, and we will vote your ass out of office this November. It's really as simple as that."

To help move labor's agenda forward, Bieber said the Michigan AFL-CIO is following the successful lead of a strategy started among labor unions in New Jersey, called Path to Power. The goal is to recruit, train and help union members get elected to public office, "because there is nobody who understands the value of union labor better than a dues paying member." Bieber said. A Path to Power event inviting prospective political candidates to offices in Michigan proved a magnet for 24 union members, including electricians and operating engineers, at a Teamsters hall in Jackson. 

They learned how to get on the ballot, how to form a campaign committee, how to form a field plan and how to build a winning campaign team. "Brothers and sisters this is how we build our bench," Bieber said. "A union bench. And it's how we get our state back."

Bieber also said "getting back to basics means re-starting the member-to-member program again, involving one-on-one conversations between labor leaders and members. "That means having more one on one conversations with our members before the election season starts," Bieber said. "Asking them about the issues they care about. It means doing a better job explaining how the decisions that are made in Lansing and Washington affect their jobs, their paychecks and their kids' futures. Think about an issue like prevailing wage or road funding, brothers and sisters, it's up to all of us in this room to educate our members about where these candidates really stand on these issues. In a lot of cases it's not just about what they say, it's about what they do. Because if we don't do it ourselves our members sure are not going to find those answers in a local newspaper or on the six o'clock news or on Facebook."

More political influence, he said, will lead Michigan away from leaders who haven't noticed the state's potholes, and who haven't been willing to repair roads bridges, improve schools, and replace water and sewer pipes.

"Especially now when there is so much work that can be done in this state," Bieber said. "We didn't start this war on working people but we damn well better finish it. Because if we don't they have a plan to finish us. We cannot let that happen."