The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 22, 2011

Yoopers put a bug in their ear, too

By The Building Tradesman

MARQUETTE – Supporters of working families from across the Upper Peninsula converged on the U.P.’s largest city on April 13 to make their voices heard about the anti-labor rhetoric and actions coming out of state government.

“We were more than pleased with the turnout, we had about 1,500 from across the U.P.,” said Mike Thibault, business representative with the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and president of the Marquette County Labor Council. “We held it conjunction with the rally in Lansing. We’re not going to let these lawmakers come home from Lansing and relax. They’re going to hear from us. We’re also attending town halls and other meetings to give them an earful.”

Hosted by the labor council, the two-hour event was held beginning at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Marquette County Courthouse. Speakers included former state Sen. Mike Prusi and former state Rep. Gary McDowell.

The protests in the U.P., of course, mirrored the concerns of ralliers in Lansing: Republican lawmakers’s push to institute right-to-work zones in Michigan, as well as threatened repeal of MIOSHA, prevailing wage and project labor agreements, and passage of the emergency financial manager bill and cutting of six weeks of unemployment insurance.

Upper Peninsula Construction Council Executive Director Tony Retaski made remarks at the rally and ended with an announcement that he’s running for state representative, 109th District. He will be running for the seat that will be vacated by fellow Democrat Steve Lindberg, who will be term-limited out of his seat next year.

“I’m totally impressed with the amount of people who turned out,” Retaski said. “It just shows the frustration level that people have about what’s going on. There aren’t many options besides rallies to get people involved.”

Retaski, who is also president of the Marquette Board of Education, said “a lot of the cuts we’re seeing in Lansing are not related at all to job creation. The cuts in education are going to hurt in a lot of areas, even in the building trades.” He said the loss of elective classes that lead high schoolers into the trades will reduce the pool of potential workers in the future.

Tim Roman, business agent with Iron Workers Local 8 and president of the Upper Peninsula Building Trades, said with the rally, “we’re starting to see more solidarity with other unions, and we’re building coalitions with the leadership. And I’ve heard from people who plan to become active and engage these lawmakers during their public meetings.”