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Michigan Stagehands rally for unemployment benefits and jobs

By Tom Burke |
March 19, 2021
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Michigan rally for jobs and to extend unemployment benefits.
Michigan rally for jobs and to extend unemployment benefits. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Lansing, MI - A group of 40 stagehands from across Michigan gathered at the State Capitol building in Lansing, March 17. The IATSE union stagehands are marking one year without work and demanding the extension of unemployment benefits until it is safe to return to their jobs.

One of their issues is that Michigan law makers need to restore 26 weeks of unemployment, after it was cut down to 20 weeks when Republican Governor Snyder was in office. The amounts paid for unemployment also need to increase dramatically as they have been frozen for years.

Stagehands were forced on unemployment in March 2020, similar to hotel and restaurant employees, gig workers, artists and performers. Many attended “Push for $600” unemployment rallies during the summer and fall.

“The pandemic has cost us loved ones and livelihoods. Unemployment checks are the only thing keeping a roof over our heads and food on our plates,” said Jessica Westra, IATSE Local 26 President.

She continued, “Unemployment payments boost the economy. People need to pay for food. People need to pay for healthcare. They need to pay their rent, their mortgage, and their taxes. People can’t save for the future if they are barely able to survive the present.”

“My union has kept me insured, my union has kept our workplaces safe, my union has lived up to its obligation to protect its membership. We need our legislature to live up to its obligation to protect its citizens,” Westra explained.

Members from five or more different IATSE locals around Michigan gathered for speeches covering Michigan film tax credits, the details of the American Rescue Plan like the $1400 checks, and solidarity with Amazon workers forming a union in Alabama.

Stagehands make possible mass gatherings, political rallies, culture, songs and performances that express people’s humanity, give joy and excitement, and lift peoples spirits. They are fully behind the CDC guidelines and the organized push for vaccinations against COVID-19 so they can return to work where large crowds gather.

Stagehands are also demanding Michigan legislators fund unemployment by continuing employer contributions, instead of using taxpayer money. They want Governor Whitmer to hold the line and not allow Republican kickbacks for employers. Republicans are holding back federal monies to try and force Governor Whitmer to relinquish her powers.

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