Labor Voices: A plan to fix Michigan
November’s election looms large for the future of Michigan. During the past eight years, Michiganians have seen what a lack of leadership in Lansing looks like. It has jeopardized the health of tens of thousands of vulnerable Flint residents. It has left our roads and infrastructure a mess. It has made it more difficult for hardworking people to make ends meet. In short, it’s time for a change.
Gretchen Whitmer understands the challenges being faced by those in the Great Lakes State. She earned the Teamsters’ endorsement earlier this year because she is a fighter for the people. The former prosecutor knows the lack of solutions has a real effect on those who work and play by the rules but struggle to support their families. They deserve opportunity and dignity, something too many are now sorely lacking.
In late April, Whitmer joined the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers in Flint to call out the continued catastrophe that is the ongoing water crisis there. While the national headlines about the issue have largely faded, the situation is still hazardous for many in the city.
The union has played an active role in helping Flint deal with its water woes in recent years. Locals and joint councils from all over the U.S. spent the first half of 2016 delivering bottled water by the truckload in an effort to make clean water available to a citizenry that couldn’t depend on what flowed out of its own taps. But a permanent solution is needed for who still depend on bottled water.
Sadly, however, Flint is not alone in its clean water challenges. More than 70 localities have drinking water that contains higher lead levels than Flint, and billions of gallons of sewage contaminate state water ways. Whitmer has stressed the need to quicken the pace of replacing lead service lines so it becomes a national leader in the practice and secure long-term funding to fix sewer systems. Michigan residents deserve it!
Of course, the state’s infrastructure needs go beyond its water systems. As I highlighted in a column earlier this year, a report released by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in January found that 10.5 percent of Michigan’s 11,180 bridges were ranked structurally deficient, and that 63 of those bridges were part of the interstate highway system.
In total, the state has identified some 1,736 bridges in need of repair, which it estimates will cost $9.2 billion. Michigan was one of 21 states with more than nine percent of its bridges ranking structurally deficient – the report’s worst category.
Bridges aren’t the only concern when it comes to improving transportation in Michigan. Fixing roadways across the state, including the state’s notoriously bad potholes, are long overdue. Whitmer agrees, and is stressing a significant hike in the Rebuild Michigan Bank that funds infrastructure improvements to improve thoroughfares and create thousands of good-paying jobs to boot.
Hardworking Michiganians deserve a governor who will put their interests first without a lot of finger pointing. They’ve seen the approach taken by Gov. Rick Snyder and his cronies, and it is not a state government that looks out for the well being of its residents. It’s time to change course.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.