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Democratic candidates for governor talk jobs, unions

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News
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Warren — Four of the Democratic candidates for Michigan governor agree that the minimum wage should be raised to $15, but they have differing ideas on how more jobs can be created in the state.

Candidates Gretchen Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayed, Shri Thanedar and Bill Cobbs appeared Wednesday at a gubernatorial town hall meeting hosted by the Michigan AFL-CIO union. It was the first of a series of three town halls with a general focus on jobs and the economy.

During Wednesday’s event, United Auto Workers union members in the audience asked the candidates several questions on jobs, the value of unions, the North American Free Trade Agreement, workplace safety and sexual harassment.

One of the first questions highlighted how candidates would keep jobs in Michigan and avoid outsourcing to other countries.

Whitmer, considered the frontrunner in the Democratic party, promised to put all Michiganians on the path to high-wage jobs. After the town hall, Whitmer explained that she would accomplish it through apprenticeship programs, free community college or affordable four-year universities.

“Right now we have to build our concentration of talent in Michigan,” Whitmer said. “If Amazon has taught us anything, it’s a mandate that we’ve got to grow talent in this state.”

Bill Cobbs said corporations that get tax breaks need to be held accountable for giving jobs to Michigan residents. He said the Little Caesars Arena project failed to provide the jobs for Detroit residents developers had promised.

“The next governor of this state has got to be somebody who says, ‘First of all, we’re going to stop this nonsense of giving massive corporate welfare to people who already have enough money to do what needs to be done,’” Cobbs said. “But if we give them something, we’re going to get something back from it.’”

El-Sayed said Michigan needed to focus on small businesses as opposed to subsidizing large companies that often outsource their jobs.

Thanedar touted his experience running a business in which he created 450 jobs in the United States. He said he was able to provide training, good pay and benefits without outsourcing any jobs.

The candidates also discussed the value of unions and Michigan’s right-to-work law which prohibits workers from being required to join labor unions. Thanedar said he would work to repeal right to work.

“It’s important that we protect people’s wages,” Thanedar said. “If you work hard, I believe you deserve to have good wages, and good retirement income and good benefits.”

El-Sayed said unions are critical to protecting wages and fair treatment: “Nobody in this state should have to work a 40-hour work week and not have the basic means of affording a good meal to put on the table and a roof over their heads.”

Whitmer said she believes collective bargaining is critical because it promotes gender and race-equity in pay.

While some unions have already made endorsements, the AFL-CIO likely won’t publicly support a candidate for governor until the spring, members say.

Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, said the organization has backed Republicans in the past but opted to invite only candidates who reached out to labor unions for endorsement.

“We believe we need a change in Lansing this year,” Bieber said. “This November we need to elect a governor who will work to build an economy that works for everyone.”

Some union members declined to say which candidate they favored.

Martin Tutwiler of Oak Park said he wants a governor who can tackle poverty, education and job training.

“The issues start with investing in the people,” said Tutwiler, 40. “The problem is that people feel they are being left out.”

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