Demand ‘Michigan Needs Unions’ as a Solution to a Rigged Economy
Detroit youth stand out in the movement, fighting their real adversaries, not each other
January 23, 2018
By Diane Bukowski and SEIU Staff
DETROIT – Dozens of State Police cars, with their sirens blaring and emergency lights flashing, flew down the Lodge Freeway Jan. 23, as other drivers got out of the way to save their own lives, wondering what in blazes was going on.
Workers and poor people had taken over the state’s Cadillac Building lobby en masse, chanting, banging drums, and speaking on bullhorns, delivering a “Workers State of the State” address and protest, where Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s Detroit office is located. Many were young fast food workers from D15, fighting for a $15 minimum wage. Joining in with them were janitors and health care workers from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), demanding higher wages, benefits and the right to unionize in this “Right to Work” up south state.
“Governor Snyder has spent his two terms in office attacking Michigan’s workers, including hard working janitors, fast food workers, health care workers and others, lowering wages by passing open shop laws, stripping cities of their right to raise the minimum wage and installing emergency managers,” the group said in its press release.
“Now, workers are sticking together and fighting back to let their fellow citizens know the true state of Michigan, after eight years of lowered standards, low wages and, in some places, a lack of basic standard of living, including poisoned water. The number one job of our elected leaders should be to raise the standard of living for working people. SEIU and Fight for $15 workers are fighting to make politicians listen to working people and take action on issues that matter, including leading on raising wages by increasing the state and local minimum wage and ensuring workers have rights to strong unions.”
“Michigan’s working people have long been ignored by their elected officials, but SEIU and the Fight for $15 are changing that this year,” the release continued. “ Workers are joining together to elect officials who will instead raise wages, support the right to join together, build our communities and keep all Michiganders safe.”
D15 and SEIU have announced they are launching a massive “voter engagement” drive to elect candidates who support workers’ rights to unionize, in the wake of the disastrous 2012 state referendum that made “up south” Michigan a Right to Work state, under Gov. Snyder’s urging.
They said they are volunteering 40 hours of each worker’s time to engage voters in Michigan who have been left out of the political process, in anticipation of the 2018 elections. Their representatives said they plan to engage in door-to-door canvassing, digital and radio advertising and mail.
“SEIU and the Fight for $15 intend to show that those who have given up on the political process will reengage if politicians speak to issues that improve the lives of working Americans,” said their release.
In addition to the barbaric passage of Right to Work legislation, they said Snyder and state lawmakers have also stripped cities of their right to raise the minimum wage and installed “emergency managers” to disenfranchise communities of color across the state.
Hospital workers in particular are key to the mobilization, organizers said.
“In Detroit and cities across the Midwest, hospitals are at the center of the economy the way factories were for previous generations,” they explained. Two of the three largest private employers in Detroit are health systems: Detroit Medical Center (9,184 employees), the city’s second-largest private employer; and Henry Ford Health System (8,790 employees), the city’s third-largest private employer. While many hospital service workers in Detroit are paid too little to support themselves or their families, the city’s hospital industry made a combined $519 million in profits in 2015 according to the most recent data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
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Service Employees International Union Local 1 unites 50,000 workers throughout the Midwest including janitors, security officers, higher education faculty, food service workers, and others. Local 1 is committed to improving the lives of its members and all working people by winning real economic justice and standing at the forefront of the fight for immigrant, racial, and environmental justice.
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Founded in November of 2012, the Fight for $15 is a movement led by fast food workers, fighting for a $15/hour living wage, the right to form a union without retaliation, and respect in the workplace. Workers live and work in different cities and states across the country. Since the Fight for $15 started, it has won raises for 22 million Americans, including 10 million workers who are on a path to $15.
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