Growing and strengthening west Michigan's middle class
GRAND RAPIDS February 11, 2016– As we’re inundated by news about Flint’s poisoned water system and Detroit crumbling public schools– both affected by failed policies coming out of Lansing– we’re also hearing more stories of unions stepping up to help those in need.
Michigan AFL-CIO President Rob Bieber wrote an op-ed that ran in today’s Grand Rapids Press, highlighting the fact that Lansing’s anti-labor politicians should spend less time attacking men and women who belong to unions, and more time partnering with them to fix the problems many of our state’s residents are facing.
Since the Flint crisis first hit the news, the organizations most dedicated to bringing clean water to Flint residents have been local unions from across Michigan. And without the bravery of Detroit’s public school teachers to stand up to the state’s Emergency Manager, the deplorable conditions that children are facing every day in Detroit might not be widely known.
From Bieber’s column:
[T]his year, we’ve seen the best argument for organized labor that I could ever imagine: The labor movement knows the power of collective action to help people in need.
Last month, 400 union plumbers and pipefitters volunteered to install water filters, replace faucets, and distribute lead test kits to people in Flint.
Union carpenters and millwrights, along with the UAW, organized 800 volunteers to deliver more than two semi-trucks full of water throughout the city.
Members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America have delivered more than 100,000 bottles of water since October.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, representing Meijer employees, have arranged for discounted rates with Meijer for any organization that wants to make large water donations to Flint.
The Michigan Nurses Association has worked to educate the public about the impacts of lead poisoning, and helped pay for a bus so Flint residents could attend last week’s hearing in Washington.
In Detroit — where public schools have been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy under state control — educators with the Detroit Federation of Teachers have stepped up to call attention to deplorable classrooms, including mold, dead rats, and broken heaters. These heroic teachers are standing up for their students and fighting to make sure they get the quality education they deserve.
The common theme here is that hard-working union members are stepping up to help our neighbors, and clean up the messes that were made by Lansing politicians.
To help communities move forward, our elected leaders need to stop treating Michigan’s unions like the enemy, and understand that working people can be partners in delivering long-term solutions.
Last week, members of the Michigan congressional delegation called for federal aid to replace lead pipelines. That’s a good start, but Lansing needs to step up too, by tapping the rainy day fund to start replacing pipes immediately. The Legislature also needs to abandon efforts to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage laws.
Prevailing wage ensures that public infrastructure projects get done by well-trained Michigan construction workers, instead of shoddy out-of-state contractors. When it comes to replacing lead pipelines, we need to make sure the job gets done right to prevent another Flint water crisis from ever happening again.
And as Lansing debates turnaround plans for Detroit Public Schools, they need to listen to reform proposals offered by our front-line teachers, who’ve called for: a Detroit Education Commission with powers to coordinate services and ensure financial stability; dedicated funding to restructure the debt created under state control; and a plan for improving academic performance through instructional support and wraparound services.
But instead, last week a Senate committee passed bills that punish teachers for speaking up about unsafe classroom conditions. Policymakers need to start working with educators instead of attacking them to ensure every student gets a world-class education.
Working people have shown they have the tools, skills, and experience needed to face these challenges head-on, and build a Michigan that works for everyone. But it will take true bipartisan leadership in Lansing to make these goals a reality. The people of Michigan deserve nothing less.