Stay Committed To Fight

Outlasting Forces of Greed, Intolerance

Eric W. Rader

In the closing days of the Michigan Legislature's lame-duck session, Republicans hastily passed bills to fulfill the right-wing wishes of a small minority of people in our state. Unfortunately, Gov. Rick Snyder didn't have the backbone to stand up to the Tea Party-inspired agenda of legislative Republicans, and despite his supposed moderate credentials, signed much of this awful legislation. In passing these bills, legislative Republicans denied opponents any chance to really debate the pros and cons of the legislation, ramming it through the legislature without any real hearings or discussion. The process by which the Republicans passed their agenda can hardly be described as "democratic" and was profoundly flawed.

Included within the package of bills were two pieces of legislation that now make Michigan a so-called "Right-to-work" (RTW) state, meaning that unions can no longer require the workers they are legally required to cover to pay their fair share for the services the union provides for them. With RTW in effect, workers are no longer allowed to vote for such requirements, limiting their ability to negotiate in good faith with their employers and silencing their voices.

The Republican legislative agenda in Michigan flew in the face of the will of Michigan voters, as expressed in the statewide results of the November 2012 election. Michigan citizens recently voted to re-elect Barack Obama and Debbie Stabenow by significant margins, and reduced the Republican margin in the Michigan House from eighteen seats to eight. While it is true that the voters defeated the pro-labor Proposal 2 by a large majority, they actually defeated all of the statewide proposals by similar or even greater margins. In any event, voting against an amendment to the Michigan Constitution is not the same thing as endorsing RTW legislation, something that polls show a majority of Michigan citizens oppose.

While not everyone in the LGBT community is a member of a labor union, it's important to recognize the critical work unions have performed in advancing LGBT equality in the workplace. Unions and labor federations such as the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have worked to negotiate labor contracts that protect against LGBT discrimination in the workplace and extend domestic partner benefits to employees when not prohibited by law. Labor groups have been at the forefront in the fight for LGBT equality, opposing statewide ballot measures (such as the one here in Michigan) that enshrine anti-gay bigotry in state constitutions, and supporting efforts to protect LGBT rights and extend marriage protection and workplace nondiscrimination laws.

Gov. Rick Snyder has been a huge disappointment to a lot of people in our state, though many of us were suspicious of his policy intentions when he first ran for governor two years ago. A majority of Michigan voters cast ballots for the "tough nerd" in 2010, with many voters believing that he would govern in the style of the last truly moderate Republican governor of Michigan, William Milliken.

Though Snyder has publicly proclaimed his desire to tamp down "divisive" agendas in the state, he has signed numerous bills that actually serve to widen the political divide in Michigan. One example of this divisive agenda was a bill the governor signed during his first year in office that denies domestic partner benefits to public employees in Michigan. At a time when a majority of Michiganders now say they approve of legal same-sex marriage, Snyder has joined the most intolerant elements in our state to divide gay people from straight people.

The entire Michigan Legislature and Gov. Snyder will be on the statewide ballot in 2014. A key reason for the Republican sweep of our state in 2010 was the decision by many progressive voters to stay home on Election Day. If the LGBT community and our allies are to ever enjoy equality and fairness in this state, we need new leadership in Michigan. We must support candidates for governor and for state legislative seats who will fight for all Michiganders, not just the wealthy and well-connected. This means that we cannot rest over the next two years, especially since we know that the other side most certainly won't rest. The last few weeks have not been good ones for equality and fairness in Michigan, but it's time to move on and fight for our values in the coming weeks and months. If we stay committed to our beliefs, we can outlast the forces of greed and intolerance, and Michigan's future will be bright.

AFL-CIO Pride At Work group:

UAW President's statement on President Obama's support for equal marriage rights:

AFT 2004 Proclamation in favor of equal marriage rights:

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