Michigan working families: Protect collective bargaining

jobs press conference

LANSING, Mich. - "Attacking collective bargaining won't jumpstart our economy," said Garden City resident JoAnn Rowland speaking at a state house press conference announcing the kickoff of the "Protect our Jobs" initiative. Working as a carpenter for the last 25 years has taught Rowland the importance of collective bargaining in protecting the health, safety and wages of workers, she says.

The initiative is a bold proposal supported by labor and its allies to add an amendment to the Michigan constitution guaranteeing the right of every worker to collectively bargain. The signatures of 320,000 registered voters are required to place the amendment on this November's ballot.

The Protect our Jobs measure would establish the right to form a union, prohibit employers from retaliating, and prohibit politicians from passing laws that interfere with those rights.

Those speaking at the press conference said the initiative is a response to the legislature's attack on Michigan's middle class, from the taxing of seniors' pensions and cutting funds for education (while at the same time lowering taxes on corporations) to the 80 plus bills in the legislature that dismantle the workers' compensation system, prohibit school systems from deducting union dues or service fees, force the privatization of non-instructional school workers in public schools, eliminate prevailing wage requirements and remove the current requirement of employers to notify striking unions when they are hiring replacement workers.

A bill to prevent public employees from having a political candidate bumper sticker on the car they park in the "public facility" parking lot shows the depth of extremism for issues big and small.

Rowland said small businesses also have a stake. As the wages of Michigan's working families go down, she said, she would be making fewer trips to stores and movie theaters.

Autoworker Aaron Warfield, UAW 931, said all workers, union, non-union private and public are in this fight. "We all in the same boat looking for a fair day's pay, wages, benefits and the ability to take care of our family and to collectively bargain. That's why you see us all working together."

Registered nurse John Armelagos said the first thing nurses discuss at the bargaining table is the ratio of nurses to patients. "This is not about health care professionals complaining about being overworked, this is about public safety. Studies show that a patient's probabilities of injury or dying increases the more patients are cared for by fewer nurses."

The next time you're admitted to a hospital you might want to ask about that ratio. Armelagos said once a nurse in a general care unit has more than four patients, the chance of dying increases by seven percent for each additional patient they care for.

He also framed this initiative as much more than stopping the right-to-work legislation

Republicans are hoping to pass, saying, "When collective bargaining is defended it's a rising tide that lifts all ships."

How those "ships" are negatively affected by the assault on working families was told by Rev. John Burns of St Mathew AME Zion church in Lansing. Because of the growing attack on working families, the demand for food at food banks in the city has grown so high their supplies have been running short. To help with this crisis, he said, area churches are raising money for the purchase of food.

Photo: John Rummel/PW