The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 23, 2018

Whitmer: 'We have to start treating unions with respect'

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer certainly knew her audience: labor union representatives who live in a state with horrible roads and under a government whose majority strongly dislikes labor unions. 

Speaking to delegates to the 59th Legislative Conference of the Michigan Building and Construction Legislative Conference, Whitmer bemoaned the average state motorist tab of $540 a year she said it cost to get their vehicles repaired because of potholes and crumbling bridges. She also pointed out that the state's ruling Republican legislators haven't devoted nearly enough money to fixing the roads, and lawmakers are actively looking to reduce to wages of construction workers who would make the repairs. 

"So let's put a real plan together to fund the roads and bridges," Whitmer said. "An infrastructure plan that includes rebuilding our water infrastructure underground, and building out broadband infrastructure. Let's put thousands of Michiganders to work immediately in good paying jobs to rebuild our state. 

"And let's fix the damn roads. I don't know how many of you have had to replace wheels or rims, but it's crazy. We have to fix the roads because they're costing us money. In the state that built the middle class, it has to become the state once again that rebuilds Michigan."

Whitmer, 47, is a former Ingham County prosecutor and former state House member and state Senate majority leader. She has received the endorsement of most labor unions in state, including the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, which gave her an early nod last August. The likely Republican nominee for governor, Bill Schuette, supports prevailing wage repeal, writing in a January 2018 op-ed that the law is "unfair, outdated and doesn’t work toward moving Michigan forward." He also supports the state's right-to-work law. 

"Now let's talk about how we're going to get more people into the trades, because that's a nice talking point for a lot of people in Lansing," Whitmer said. "They're the same people who then push for attacks on prevailing wage. If we're going to lure more people into the trades, we have to start treating tradespeople with respect. We have to start treating unions with respect. That means no more attacks on you. Hey, what if we recognize your right to collectively bargain? What if we recognize how important it is that we re-establish the 26 weeks? What if we stop the continuous attacks on benefits in the public sector workforce?"

The 26 weeks mentioned by Whitmer refers to the 26 weeks of unemployment benefits that were reduced to 20 weeks by state lawmakers early in the Gov. Rick Snyder Administration. She also referenced the state's establishment of a right-to-work law, and the attacks on public sector employee pensions - all undertaken by GOP lawmakers.

Whitmer also talked about improving the low educational achievement in Michigan, high car insurance rates, the Flint water disaster, and the lack of public transit. But she didn't stray far from displaying her pro-union, pro-worker cred.

"I know a lot of you know me because we were on the front lines together on a lot of tough fights," Whitmer said. "All the attacks that the Republicans have waged against labor, we were there. Outside, during their attacks on collective bargaining, I threw open the doors and we led the protests from my office. Fighting back against taking unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. The continuous attacks against labor. The protecting that we tried to do of prevailing wage in Michigan, and we have yet work ahead to do."