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In Lansing, Candidates Bucked the Chamber of Commerce in Support of Labor-Backed Positions

Election night came and went this year with many triumphs for progressives, not the least of which was a resounding, working class defeat of Ohio’s anti-collective bargaining bill, SB5. North of Ohio, in similarly contentious Michigan, there was no recall of the Governor’s first extremist stroke of the pen, the Emergency Financial Manager Law, but there was the Lansing City Council race wherein labor-backed candidates took home three of the four up-for-grabs seats. What was interesting about these small races was not so much who won — the incumbent retained their seat in the three races that were not open — but what three of the losing, Chamber of Commerce-backed candidates had supported leading up to election: Project Labor Agreements and the Prevailing Wage.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder banned Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) at the end of the summer, kicking off a lawsuit courtesy of the union leaders from the Building and Construction Trades Council. The Chamber of Commerce, a viciously anti-union lobby, almost exclusively opposes PLAs under the common and misinformed auspices of union labor cost increases.

But in the case of the Lansing City Council, the Chamber-backed candidates this time supported PLAs and a similarly Chamber-opposed Prevailing Wage ordinance. From The Michigan Messenger:

And while the chamber-backed candidates have accepted the money from their benefactor, they say they fundamentally oppose the chamber and GLP’s stated policy goals. Specifically Lansing Forward is opposed to project labor agreements (PLAs) — agreements which require developers to use union workers on development projects receiving public dollars — and prevailing wage ordinances. The group also opposes a recently-enacted pollution control ordinance from the county, which allows emergency responders to know what potential hazards they might face in the event of a crisis.

“Although recent legislation banned the use of PLAs by Michigan local governments, if the legislation is repealed I would be open to instituting PLAs for development agreements, specifically in regards to residency requirements and job skill training programs,” Stewart told Michigan Messenger.

Neuner was even more supportive of PLAs.

“I’ve been firm on my support for Project Labor Agreements from day one,” she said. “I do not support what is taking place in our state government regarding PLAs. I believe local government can and should have the option to use PLAs in development projects.”

Meanwhile, Martinez too said she support PLAs.

Robinson did not return inquires to her campaign, nor did the Chamber or Lansing Forward respond to several requests for interviews.

As for prevailing wage laws, only Stewart stood with the Chamber in opposing them.

“If our city were to unilaterally implement a prevailing wage ordinance without first gaining feedback from our residents and the support of neighboring municipalities,” Stewart said, “we would be putting Lansing at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the area.”

Neuner and Martinez both said they supported a prevailing wage ordinance, with Neuner saying it was a key tool in moving Lansing forward.

Of course, the danger in highlighting this fact, from a labor perspective, is that, well…these candidates lost. But it says nothing of the support for PLAs or the Prevailing Wage in Michigan because these measures were and are unilaterally supported by the winning candidates and the groups who endorsed them as well. What is most encouraging is that candidates backed by a corporate, top-down lobby such as the Chamber of Commerce were able to present an unbiased, inclusive position on a matter of grave importance for workers, communities and business.

Project Labor Agreements are the only pre-hire construction contracts that enforce local, minority, female and veteran hiring requirements on the job. They are the only construction contracts that guarantee a workforce with sufficient training and experience to ensure safety, not just for the workers, but for the people using the final product ten years down the line. Is Lansing is any indication, these crucial standards appear to be gaining support from typically opposition candidates in an important battleground state.


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