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Michigan workers rally and march for unemployment extensions

By Tom Burke |
July 17, 2020
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Michigan workers demand extension of unemployment benefits.
Michigan workers demand extension of unemployment benefits. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Lansing, MI - 120 union members and supporters marched through downtown Lansing, July 15, chanting, “They say cut back! We say fight back!” The march stopped at a union worker statue where Nick Eaton of IATSE Local 247 spoke, “This statue represents the workers who built the new buildings you see in front of you. It also reflects the history of factory workers before deindustrialization left ugly scenes and empty lots, like many cities in the Midwest.”

The marchers returned to the State Capitol building chanting about unemployment, “Extend to the end!” and “HEROES Act now!” Josh Roskamp with IATSE Local 26 explained, “The hundreds of post cards addressed to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell will send a message that we need the $600. We can’t wait for it to run out. We need every person at this rally to organize small groups to visit politicians at their offices to talk about unemployment and the HEROES Act!”

Pete Vargas with the Restaurant Opportunities Center spoke at the rally, “Many of our food service workers live on tips, and are low wage at $3.25 per hour. For those who applied, many of them women and immigrants, they only make $126 a week for unemployment. It is just totally unacceptable. We support the expansion on both the state level and federal level.”

Nia Winston, president of UNITE HERE Local 24 covering Michigan and Ohio, opened with the crowd chanting, “No justice! No peace!” Winston spoke passionately, “All of us have been essential for a long ass time, but nobody recognized that until now.” She then told the story of a McLaren Hospital porter forced to wear a plastic trash bag for PPE during the COVID-19 crisis. Other workers had to beg for masks while the McLaren Health Care Corporation continued to roll in the profits.

Speaking to the unemployment need, Winston said, “For UNITE HERE union, 98% of our members are on furlough. If Congress and the Senate does not pass the HEROES Act now, unfortunately we will have members with serious medical conditions who will lose their health care.”

She finished by saying, “Who the hell can live off of $300 per week unemployment? Extend the HEROES Act to the end! My plea is to the Senate to pass the HEROES Act now. Do your damn job!”

The rally also featured a leading group of IATSE union stagehands Walter Shink, Lindsey Katerberg, Joe Miller, Tom Rivera and Josh Roskamp. IATSE members work in Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.

Anne Brown spoke for U.S. Congressperson Elissa Slotkin of the 8th District on the topic, “What is the HEROES Act and what to expect?” She finished with a call and response, “When we fight! We win!”

Importantly, Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO spoke about workers being sick, and the people he knows who died. Bieber explained, “Dumbass Donald Trump has failed to have a coordinated federal response, to this day, after all the pain and all the deaths in this country. He continues to downplay the seriousness of the virus; after all we have been through.”

Bieber continued, “You cannot fix this economic crisis until you fix the health crisis. Get your ass to work fixing that, Donald.”

Josh Roskamp closed the rally by responding to Presidential Advisor Ivana Trump’s “Find something new” statement last week. Roskamp said, “Do we really want to be competing for everybody else’s job? Do we really need to run down all our wages?”

U.S. unemployment rose by 1.8 million workers this past week. Officially there are 33 million unemployed, including 2 million in the entertainment industry.

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