Ferndale Residents Among Thousands at Lansing Protest

Ferndale Residents Among Thousands at Lansing Protest

(C. Proxmire, Dec. 12, 2012)

Over 10,000 people traveled to Lansing from all over the state to protest Right to Work legislation that was quickly pushed through in the “lame duck” session of Michigan’s House and Senate.

The bill makes it harder for workers to organize and fight for workplace rights.  Unions represent workers in negotiations with employers and in disputes between employees and their bosses.  They also negotiate contracts with employers, establishing employee wages and benefits. And they protect workers from being fired without good cause. They are funded by dues paid by union members, which are often a condition of employment.  Traditionally the labor movement has fought for things that many workers now take for granted, such as health insurance, vacation pay, sick pay, workplace safety and overtime.  They also provide a resource for employees who may have questions about their workplace rights.

Jaron Garza, UAW Local 160 CAP Chairman, was among the protestors who were nearly run over by Sheriffs on horseback when they pushed their way through the crowds.  He is concerned with the aftermath of the bill’s passage. “It is a way to weaken labor unions and ultimately the Democratic party,” Garza said.  “This is will most likely tear this state in pieces and hurt job growth, and make for bad working conditions on the job. I hope history looks back at how bad this governor has truly hurt Michigan. He has gone after teachers and our children’s future with the cuts he has made and attacked working families.”

Garza is a proud father who works hard to provide for his family. “I owe all I have to the UAW and collective bargaining it ensures safe working conditions at work and a living wage and good benefits for my daughter.”  He objects to the way that the bill was passed in the lame duck session. “This done in a sneaky back door manner and not put before the citizens of Michigan for a popular vote.”

Darcie Brault, who is an attorney from Ferndale, went to Lansing to support workers’ rights and to provide legal advice and support.  While she is not in a union herself, she understands how the labor movement benefits people in all industries.  “I think that people spend the gross majority of their waking life at work, and work is incredibly important to us as people.  Labor is very important in the way we view ourselves as workers and our dignity,” she said.

“There’s so much stuff that people don’t understand about right to Work.  Most people don’t seem to get it.  The press doesn’t seem to get it.

“I don’t think people realize in order to get representation for a bargaining unit, employees now no longer have to pay.  Under federal law they are still part of the bargaining unit.  They will receive the same benefits. If people realize they will get something of value for free without paying for it, they will opt to not pay for it.  The union will represent these people no matter what.   They get the benefit of the bargaining without paying the costs for the administration.  The most important tool is there will be people who have grievances.  The grievance process is really expensive.  You have to pay an arbitrator and the union representative, but without the union most individuals could not afford to go through the legal process.”

She too was concerned about the change the law will bring.  “What will likely happen is that people will opt to not join the benefits of the union, and it will be really hard to convince people that their level of benefits will be kept up, and they will reach a point that they can’t provide the same level of services.  Membership will decline and they will provide less service, and then have even less money.

“The most important thing is it’s not a choice between being a union member or a non-union member.  Their choice is to pay union dues or not pay union dues, but they still get the same benefits because the law says they must represent everyone whether they pay in or not.”

In addition to the workplace ramifications, there is a political consequence for the state.  “The thing that is less evident [in media coverage] is that it is a direct hit to the Democratic Party.  The top fundraisers for the Democratic Party have been unions and trial lawyers. This limits the Democratic Party’s ability to fund raise.”

Proponents of Right to Work blame unions for the economic woes of the state, claiming that high wages and benefits unions insist upon are what have driven corporations to use cheaper foreign labor, or to leave Michigan for states where they do not have to provide as many benefits to workers.  Governor Snyder and others have stated that workers should have the freedom not to join a union.  Police and Fire are exempt from the law.  The protest in Lansing had only a handful of people supporting the bill, none of whom that spoke to Ferndale 115 were from Ferndale.

The Right to Work legislation is a nearly word for word duplication of model legislation created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  The heavily-Republican and heavily-corporate nonprofit has been working behind the scenes in government and media to promote corporate agendas, including the privatization of education, privatization or prisons, and the “Stand your ground” laws that first brought ALEC into public attention.  ALEC’s communication and technology arm is manned by AOL, whose launch of Patch websites in multiple cities to compete with existing media (while ignoring cities that didn’t have much press) has helped undermine the stability of the existing press and their ability to cover state-level issues.  Ruppert Murdoch’s News Corp, parent company of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, is also on the task force (as well as the Education Task Force).

Often hidden from ALEC’-tied “news” is the fact is that corporate profits are at an all-time high, while worker’s comparative pay is at an all-time low.  Right to Work ensures more profit-making ability for corporations in Michigan, and gives the promise of more low-paying jobs with less job security.

Business Insider has a chart documenting the disparity as well as an overall analysis of what happens when low income workers lack spending power in an economic system.  Governor Rick Snyder previously said he opposed Right to Work, yet still signed the bill.

The Dec. 11 protests were relatively peaceful, however there were two incidents which The Ferndale 115 recorded,one being the demolition of the Progress for America tent, and the other where Ingham County Sheriffs on horses ran up on a small group of bystanders without any provocation.  The tent story/video will be up shortly, though parts of it are included in the general protest video below.

Those interested in working on campaigns for workers’ rights can contact Progress Michigan through their website at http://www.progressmichigan.org/.  Those who would like to fight for more corporate rights can contact Americans for Prosperity at http://americansforprosperity.org/.

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