Democratic gov candidates discuss union issues, wages

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — Four Democratic candidates for Michigan governor laid out plans to protect Michigan’s economy before a lively crowd of mostly union members Monday at Wayne County Community College District.

Topics ranged from raising the minimum wage and affordable healthcare to the privatization of prisons.

Candidates Gretchen Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayed, Shri Thanedar and Bill Cobbs vowed to stand behind the state’s union workers.

The forum was hosted by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, which represents more than 50,000 workers in the Midwest including janitors and food service workers; SEIU Local 526m, which represents about 6,000 state corrections officers; SEIU Healthcare Michigan (HCMI), which represents 10,000 healthcare workers; and The Fight for $15 which is a movement led by fast food workers for a $15 an hour wage.

Whitmer said she would protect collective bargaining as governor. She has received endorsements for the Democratic nomination from the United Auto Workers, Michigan AFL-CIO and the Michigan Education Association, among other unions.

“We’ve got to protect your right to unionize,” Whitmer said. “It has been under attack by the Republicans for a decade here in Michigan. You deserve the same right a CEO deserves to negotiate a fair wage.”

Thanedar said he supported raising the minimum wage to $15 and wants to tie it to inflation “so our families never fall behind.”

“I will make sure workers rights are protected,” Thanedar said. “I will work tirelessly to repeal the so-called right-to-work (laws).”

Cobbs talked about a plan to gradually roll out the $15 minimum wage by starting off at $10 and requiring employers to raise it $1 each year for the next five years.

The candidates also discussed privatization of prisons and schools in Michigan.

El-Sayed said he wants to pass legislation that ends the privatization of jails and mental health systems.

“As governor I will stand up and say public schools and public jails and public mental health have to stay public,” he said.

El-Sayed has received the endorsement of the Michigan Nurses Association, according to his campaign website.

Thanedar announced he would shut down for-profit charter schools: “No one should be profiting from our public school dollars,” he said.

Other issues included fixing Michigan’s roads, lowering auto insurance in Detroit and Cobbs’ idea of ending Detroit’s demolition program and giving the funds to residents to rehabilitate housing.

The audience filled nearly every seat in the college’s atrium.

HCMI member Henrietta Ivey said she was most concerned about the protection of unions and higher wages.

Workers feel more job security when they are represented by unions, she said. “... I hope each one of them can make good on what they are saying,” said Ivey, a home-care provider. “That they actually bring about that change for unions and better wages.”

The gubernatorial primary is set for Aug. 7.

Candidates for the Republican nomination include state Attorney General Bill Schuette; Lt. Gov. Brian Calley; Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines; Evan Space, a military veteran; and state Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township.