Labor Voices: Families want solutions to state’s challenges

Ron Bieber
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a non-discrimination edict with the goal of protecting state works from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orienation or gender in Ferndale Jan. 7, 2019.

In her first month and a half in office, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has used her executive authority to improve the lives of Michigan’s working people in meaningful ways. She has wasted no time in her efforts to take action on issues that can be immediately addressed by her office. While progress has been made on some fronts, there remains great challenges facing our state. Challenges that will require action by the Legislature.

Among the actions in Whitmer’s first few weeks have been steps to address the morale of state employees. For too long, these employees have faced increased workload, with limited and shrinking resources. Even as they continue to do more with less, they have become the favorite scapegoat of legislative Republicans.

Whitmer has empowered state workers to report when public health and safety is at risk, and visited departments to meet with employees and hear firsthand from the people on the front lines of protecting the residents of Michigan. Whitmer understands state employees need to be listened to and their input must be valued.

As governor, Whitmer has also taken steps to address inequalities in the workplace through her directives regarding the gender pay gap and discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.

While the impact of these directives is limited to state departments and their contractors, they help to set the standard by which employees should be treated and compensated for their work. Hopefully, the example set by the governor will help to persuade the Legislature to act and pass legislation that gives all working people across the state the benefit of these protections.

We have additional important issues needing urgent legislative attention in our state. Our infrastructure is at a critical point, requiring immediate investment to bring us back from the brink of literal collapse. We also have the worst decline in education funding in the nation. We know these problems will require bipartisan efforts to fix.

Unfortunately, addressing these problems became all the more difficult when Gov. Rick Snyder and lame duck lawmakers went on a fiscally reckless $1.3 billion spending spree in the final hours of their terms. After eight years of demanding fiscal constraint, a final lame duck supplemental budget bill was passed that contained a wishlist of non-priority spending items which were traded for votes on other legislation.

A top priority for investment needs to be in our most valuable resource, the working men and women of this state. We need to invest in the working people who will repair and rebuild our roads and those who will replace our pipes. We need to invest in the schools and the teachers who are responsible for educating the next generation. We need to invest in students so they can earn a degree or learn a trade, as well as invest in displaced workers looking to learn a new skill. Finally, we need investment to clean up the pollution that was left behind by corporations and threatens to poison us all for generations to come.

Whitmer has made it clear many times that she wants to build bridges and work across the partisan divide to find solutions that benefit all the residents of Michigan. We need legislators from both sides of the aisle to partner with her to move these solutions forward. That is what the working families of this state voted for and it is what they deserve.

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices 

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.