Oct 6, 2003
Workers from all six State of Michigan employee unions, along with workers exempt from unions, rallied at the State Capitol Building – 3,500 strong – on Thursday, October 2.
State workers came to Lansing from as far as 10 hours away in the upper peninsula to demonstrate their determination to say NO! to concessions. Over a third of the crowd came from Detroit where demonstrations had already taken place.
For state workers who couldn't go to Lansing, simultaneous protests were held in Flint, Bay County, Macomb County, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, and Adrian.
Hand-made signs abounded at the rally, so numerous it's possible only to capture the tip of the iceberg. Here are some highlights:
"Cut Top Heavy Managers, Not OUR THROATS"
"ENOUGH ALREADY. We Didn't Cause the DEFICIT"
"Your 38% (referring to a raise state legislators gave themselves) is MORE than I make a year after 28 years."
"The State is Not Broke – They Gave $$Billions to Corporations"
"GOVERNOR: Take that shank out of our backs!"
A campaign picture of the governor with a Robin Hood Hat placed on her head had the caption: "Robs from the Poor and Gives to the Rich"
"Don't Balance the Budget on Our Backs"
"No Concessions, No Layoffs, No Program Cuts"
"Civil SERVICE not Civil SLAVES"
"CAN YOU HEAR US NOW?"
One speaker noted the shouts of workers could be heard a mile away.
This protest came one day after the president of a smaller state union, MESA, announced that he and other MESA officers had accepted ALL the concessions that the state wanted.
They agreed that MESA-represented workers would accept "furlough" days off work without pay; doubled prescription copays of $30 on many brand-name drugs; and working 80 hours per two week pay period while being paid for only 76 hours for one year. State workers would then be given what amounts to an I.O.U. by the government for the unpaid hours.
At the Lansing rally, members from this union were invited to the podium to speak. They vowed to fight for the concessions to be brought out to the membership for a vote. Workers from this union discussed ways to prevent the by-mail voting from being fraudulently conducted.
The union president who gave in to concessions was booed at the rally. He announced his retirement the morning of the rally and did not attend.
Most of the speakers reflected the militant mood and determination of the state workforce. Not all, however. When a union leader tried to give a speech that portrayed the current Democratic Party governor as blameless, the crowd became audibly restless.
But when this same speaker began to say that workers were going to have to compromise, chants got louder and louder from the crowd, growing into a full roar, drowning the speaker out. What went up from the crowd like lightning was the chant: "Just Say NO!," "Just Say NO!," "Just Say NO!"
The militant speeches that came later reflected the workers' views. But when yet another speaker tried to get state workers to agree to a "compromise" where the workers give up everything and the governor and legislature give up nothing, another wave of tremendous shouts roared from the crowd, "NO CONCESSIONS, NO WAY!"
After that, union leaders who spoke – even Mark Gaffney, AFL-CIO head who only a few weeks before was advocating concessions – were forced to speak out against them.
Speeches are one thing. In the end, however, each union leader will be judged by his or her actions and state workers increasingly understand they have to watch every move union leaders make.