If you’re a Michigan voter, you have an important decision to make on Nov. 6. Will you stand on the side of working families and on the side of democracy, dignity and fairness for all workers by voting yes on Proposal 2?
We, as your GSIs and as officers, stewards and members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, have worked hard to ensure you are able to make this decision for our state, rather than the CEOs and politicians who have launched dozens of legislative actions stripping workers of their right to organize and bargain collectively. We urge you to vote yes on Proposal 2.
You might have seen a few of the attack advertisements that circulate outright lies about what this constitutional amendment will mean for Michigan. These commercials try to portray educators as evil criminals out to harm children and steal taxpayer money, instead of folks just trying to take care of their families, be treated fairly at work and make our communities a better place to live. These advertisements are examples of the most basic kind of discourse that does not even bother to rise to the level of informed debate — you couldn’t get away with argumentation like this in your English 125 essays. But the adverts aren’t fooling the people who matter. Parents and informed citizens know that collective bargaining builds our communities and protects students. That’s why groups like the Michigan PTA have endorsed Proposal 2.
Before you make your decision, you might have a few questions. What is collective bargaining? In a political climate that vilifies working people, it’s easy to forget that collective bargaining is simply when two or more workers come together with their employer to negotiate hours, compensation and working conditions. Workers democratically decide among themselves what to bargain for and often address safety, quality standards and due process in hiring and firing in their contracts. Many of the basic workplace rights and protections we take for granted today are the result of decades of collective bargaining efforts: the basic 40-hour work week, the weekend break, minimum wage and child labor laws.
Maybe your question is, “What does the right to bargain collectively have to do with me and my future?” You might not be a union member when you graduate, but your working conditions will be affected by the standards that bargaining sets. All workers gain because the wages, beneﬁts, working conditions and safety procedures laid out in collectively bargained contracts become standards that other employers must meet to stay competitive. Our communities grow stronger because fair wages allow us to support local businesses, fund our schools adequately and keep safety services strong. Conversely, when workers don’t have a voice, we all lose. Politicians are rolling back current laws that protect wages, hours and safe working conditions. We can’t wait until our rights are completely gone — we need to protect them now.
There’s a classic labor movement song that you might have heard played at our rally with lecturers and other community members supporting Proposal 2 last Friday. The lyrics ask a simple question: Which side are you on?
As we teach you in our discussion sections, rarely is such a reductive question the right one to ask. There are multiple sides to every issue — and that’s exactly why teachers need a seat at the table when decisions that affect the quality of their students’ education are being discussed. Nurses need to know they can’t be fired for raising safety concerns in hospitals that are increasingly run for profit at the patient’s expense. All workers need a seat at the table when wages and benefits are being discussed. Collective bargaining gives workers a say in these crucial decisions that directly affect the lives of their students, their patients and their communities.
Yet in a time when the basic democratic rights of working people are under attack by politicians and CEOs who rake in record profits for themselves while keeping wages stagnant, the question before you is simple: Which side are you on? A vote for Proposal 2 is a vote for the right for workers to have a seat at the table, to have a say in their working conditions and to be respected for the labor and skills they bring to their jobs every single day.
This viewpoint was written by Liz Rodrigues and other members of the Graduate Employees Organization.