Headline News

Hoffa: Michigan Lawmakers Should Put Public First


By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in The Detroit News, April 9, 2014

Serving in government is not always easy. There are myriad issues the public wants solved and limited dollars to do so. There is partisan gridlock. And sometimes it seems there just isn’t enough time to take on all the challenges that need to be faced.

Being an elected official in Michigan is no different. But lately, there are some real reasons to question the decisions made by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder. Lawmakers are wasting time taking on politically-motivated issues that will actually make peoples’ lives worse while they ignore everyday matters that could make them better.

Take, for instance, the case of a Michigan Senate appropriations subcommittee that late last month approved a spending bill that would strip Michigan State University of $500,000 in annual funding if the school continues to offer a training program for building trade union members. Supporters of the provision, which include the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, says the program encourages organizing in non-union construction companies.

The legislation, however, ignores several important points. First, the classes are paid for by the trade unions, not taxpayer money. They are also held in union facilities off-campus. And these seminars are intended to help workers who are looking to enhance their skills so they can more effectively represent workers in their union.

At a time when many middle-class families are struggling, why are some in Michigan trying to hamper those workers who are going the extra mile to get additional training and get ahead? Forget academic freedom, this would be an academic failure if it is allowed to be implemented. Quite simply, some Republicans in the state don’t want union people to be empowered.

Lifelong learning is important for all workers. But this provision would discourage it. The only ones who will be hurt if this is enacted are hard-working Michiganians. And all because the ruling Republicans in the state are not satisfied with their passage of No-Rights-At-Work legislation in 2012 and are making a political power play.

It is the inaction of Gov. Snyder and others in Lansing that is affecting residents’ wallets. Potholes have overtaken the state’s roads, creating hazards that cost the average Michigan driver hundreds of dollars a year.

These “Snyderholes,” as many in Michigan have come to call them, continue to proliferate in part because the governor chose to hand out some $1.8 billion in tax breaks to his corporate cronies instead of fixing essential infrastructure. Many Republicans also seem more interested in discussing a proposed reduction in the state income tax that would net the average taxpayer $79 a year instead of taking on a problem that would save them more than $300 a year.

Taken together, cutting funding at Michigan State and not spending money to fix roads are two really bad ideas. But common sense doesn’t seem to be in big supply at the state capitol. At least, if helping workers is what one considers a good idea.

Elected officials need to stop carrying water for corporations and instead focus on those who put them in office in the first place — regular people with families to feed who are trying to do the right thing.

Big business doesn’t have the right to act like a big bully.