MARQUETTE - Labor rights activists and concerned community members assembled outside U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek's Marquette office Monday to protest the Michigan Legislature passing right-to-work legislation, as well as the apparent impasse at the federal level to address the enactment early next year of spending cuts and tax increases known as the fiscal cliff.
"We're trying to make awareness to the governor to veto the right-to-work legislation. Right to work is wrong for Michigan, and it's nothing more than a power grab by the governor, Republicans and the corporate CEOs," said Kathy Carlson, treasurer of the Marquette County Labor Council. "It's going to reduce wages of union workers and their benefits and their retirement securities - it does nothing to rebuild Michigan."
The right-to-work law would make it illegal to require workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Republicans say that such legislation would attract business and jobs to the state, while Democrats argue that it financially weakens unions and curbs their collective bargaining power.
Protesters Monday picketed outside the Marquette office of U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls. The protesters were assembling because of the Michigan House and Senate passing right-to-work legislation and the fiscal cliff impasse. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
"We're here for two purposes," said protester Zelda Ziemer. "Number one: (Gov.) Snyder lied. He said he would not consider a right-to-work law ... with that goes the benefits that people have. (And) without the tax cuts for the middle class people, without union benefits, there will be no middle class ... The jobs, the taxes, everything, is aimed to suppress us."
Michigan's right-to-work law passed in both the state House and Senate last Thursday, and Snyder is expected to sign it into law as early as today. Snyder said previously that right-to-work legislation was not on his agenda, but has since voiced his support for the bill.
"I'm here with the group to ask Mr. Benishek if he will work with (Democrat House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi on the discharge petition to get the tax cut for the middle class families," Ziemer said.
This past July the U.S. Senate passed legislation which would extend the current George W. Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except those individuals making more than $200,000 a year and married couples making more than $250,000 a year. The House of Representatives rejected the same proposal, wanting the tax cuts extended for all income levels. Pelosi plans to file a discharge petition in the House Tuesday, by which the Democratic minority can force the Senate's bill to the House floor for a vote. To do so, however, Pelosi needs the support of 25 House Republicans, such as Benishek.
"Dr. Benishek welcomes and wants input from his constituents on how best to address our nation's fiscal challenges," Kyle Bonini, Benishek's communications director, said in an email. "Dr. Benishek favors significantly reducing wasteful spending and reforming the tax code to raise federal revenue and create jobs in Northern Michigan."
Benishek, who was in Houghton Monday hosting an educational roundtable meeting at Michigan Tech, was not available for comment.
"(The Senate bill) would bypass all the rigamarole for the tax cuts and for the debt ceiling, (and) would settle the argument right now. And all (House Republicans) have to do...is stand up for their constituents," said Ziemer. "And they're leaving us behind."
Zach Jay can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 243.