Bright white picket signs stood in stark contrast to the crowd of more than 50 students, faculty and community members bundled in autumn coats who rallied under gray skies in support of Proposal 2, a ballot measure that would add the right to bargain collectively into Michigan’s constitution.
The rally, organized by the Graduate Employees’ Organization and the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, featured speakers from several local groups and kicked off with an address by State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor).
Warren took little time before delving into matters of the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing committee, which she called “miserable” for the anti-union legislation it has produced.
“Through that committee for the last two years, we have seen bill after bill after bill that limits the collective bargaining right of the workers of the state of Michigan,” Warren said.
She called Proposal 2 “vitally important,” adding that historically even non-union workers in Michigan have been aided by advancements in rights for workers provided by unions.
“Our whole quality of life here in Michigan has benefitted from the fact that our labor unions have negotiated such good contracts,” Warren said. “So we’re not doing this just for ourselves who are members of collective bargaining units, we’re doing this for the whole state of Michigan.”
Later in the rally, LEO president Bonnie Halloran echoed Warren’s sentiments, arguing that unions have unfairly received a reputation as closefisted.
“What I want to know is how did workers become a special interest group,” she said. “Somehow we’ve become the bad guys; workers are now bad guys.”
Halloran continued to say that stereotyped depictions of union members are often far from the truth.
“Do we look like union thugs looking for something? No, we’re not union thugs. We’re workers in Michigan, and we’re interested in Michigan workers,” she said. “We want to be able to support ourselves and our families.”
GEO president Katie Frank also spoke at the event, and along with advocating for the passage of Proposal 2, she stressed the importance of fully using the ability to collectively bargain.
“This isn’t the culmination of our work, this isn’t the end of our fight, this is just the beginning,” Frank said. “This is the bare minimum of what we need to do to make sure that our wages, our benefits, our working conditions are protected.”
She also spoke out against the alleged criticism from anti-union supporters.
“We’ve all seen the commercials calling us names, suggesting that we want to hurt kids — this is frankly bullshit,” Frank said. “We need to let people know that this proposal and the work that we’re doing is what is moving this state. The University works because we do; the state of Michigan works because we do.”
History Prof. Howard Brick, a former GEO member when he was a University student, attended the rally and said unions have been attacked without reason throughout the country recently.
“I think it’s urgent to take this opportunity … to take a stand and dig our heels in and make sure that collective bargaining is protected from any of these attempts to make this a right-to-work state,” Brick said.
Rackham student Martin Vega also attended the rally, and said he was glad to see multiple groups come together for a unifying cause.
“It was really spirited. It was really good,” Vega said. “The one great thing about it was that there were so many people from different organizations … so it shows the kind of potential we have for building coalitions.”
The event also featured members and addresses from Washtenaw Community Action Team and Student Union of Michigan, organizations that have recently formed within the past year.