Ron Bieber: Labor looks ahead after big wins in 2018

Bill Cobbs (left), Shri Thanedar, Abdul El-Sayed and Gretchen Whitmer (right) at the Michigan AFL-CIO gubernatorial town hall in Saginaw, April 2018 | Anne Savage

The 2018 midterm election was an important one for the labor movement — and not just nationally, but also at the state level here in Michigan.

The last eight years in our state have been marked by a legislative agenda set on manipulating the rules to benefit the wealthy and corporations with a governor who had been all too willing to sign that agenda into law.

Everyone knows the major hits against working families: shifting the tax burden off of corporations and onto hourly wage earners and seniors, passage of so-called Right to Work, ending the state’s prevailing wage law and the Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, the smaller attacks added up. The slow chipping away at our freedoms in the workplace. Targeted tax break after targeted tax break to benefit corporations. And the seemingly endless cuts to education that jeopardizes our children’s future.

Right to Work protest outside the Michigan Capitol, December 2012 | Michigan AFL-CIO

Working people felt the pinch. They could see that the changes that were being made were done to support an elite few.

It’s no coincidence that as these attacks on working families continued, union membership went up. There are more union members in Michigan today than when now-former Gov. Rick Snyder signed Right to Work into law in 2012.

In 2018, public support for unions reached a fifteen year high of 62 percent nationally. Among the 18-34 age group, that approval increases to 65 percent. With almost half of all workers currently not in a union saying they would join if given the chance, our numbers will continue to grow as our organizing efforts continue.

This all sets the backdrop as we entered into the 2018 election cycle. The working people of this state were ready for a new direction. They wanted leadership that would put in place a set of rules creating an economy that we could all benefit from.

It was important to us to identify those candidates who would be the most supportive of working families and protecting our freedoms. The labor movement worked together, taking a more proactive approach in support of our endorsed candidates.

We talked to our own members and the public about the candidates who would support working people and our ability to secure the things we need to provide for our families.

That work and those conversations paid off. Pro-working family candidates swept the top of the ticket races. Two more pro-working people now represent Michigan in Congress. And we had a net gain of five pro-worker seats in both the state House and Senate.

Additionally, working people will have a friendlier Michigan Supreme Court where they can get a fair shot at justice. And perhaps most importantly, two pro-voter initiatives were passed that will make sure the voice of working people is heard at the ballot box and that those legislators who seek to rig the rules against working Michiganders can be held accountable.

But our work didn’t end on Nov. 6. The Lame Duck legislative session brought a fresh wave of attacks against the working families of this state, as lawmakers who lost their elections or were termed out of office sought to complete an anti-worker agenda in the final days of single-party control.

“Fight for our Families” anti-Lame Duck protest, Dec. 12, 2018 | Ken Coleman

With our renewed sense of solidarity, we held strong and let them know their constituents were still paying attention.

With a flood of phone calls and emails, we were able to stop unnecessary bills that would have required union recertification votes every two years and banned union release time. These measures would have been chaotic to the workplace and cost taxpayers millions. We held strong, and even were able to water down and weaken other harmful pieces of legislation.

We enter 2019 strong and confident. We know that the power in our numbers is a force that cannot be ignored.

We hope that the new Legislature will recognize that it’s time to change the rules so that working families have a fair chance and that we have an economy that everyone can benefit from.

It’s time for them to set an agenda that the voters clearly demanded in the last election.

Ron Bieber
Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. Ron is a third-generation UAW member, and the son of former UAW President Owen Bieber. Prior to his election as President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, he served as Director of the UAW’s Community Action Program.

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