HOUGHTON - "Unions made Michigan great!"
That was the cry of dozens of people marching across the Portage Lake Lift Bridge Saturday as part of a rally for workers' rights and to stoke interest in the upcoming election.
About 60 people attended the rally, which began near the Powerhouse Building in Houghton.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Scott Dianda of Calumet, a Democratic candidate for the 110th District Michigan House of Representatives seat, speaks at a rally for workers’ rights in Houghton Saturday.
Attendees heard from Scott Dianda of Calumet, who announced his candidacy for the 110th District Michigan House of Representatives seat. Dianda lost in 2010 to Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine.
The people of the Copper Country aren't being represented in Lansing, Dianda said.
"The last election, we talked about three major issues: education, jobs and local control of government," he said. "And all three of those issues now in the House of Representatives have been torn down. They took the money out of education, they're against local control of government with emergency managers and they're not working on anything to get our people working and back where we need to be as a state."
Dianda cited several moves by the House he considered hostile to the working class, such as the elimination of the $600-per-child tax credit and the elimination of homestead exemptions.
"All of this money is going to be used for big business to give them a tax break," he said. "I'm all for business. I was in business. But I'll tell you what, you don't have to educate me on the fact that if you don't have people working, making decent wages, you're not going to have a decent business."
In addition to volunteering for campaigns, attendees could also sign the petition for the Protect Our Jobs campaign. Around 300,000 people are needed to sign the petition, which would put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to protect workers' collective bargaining rights.
"We're not asking the state to give us anything, except the ability to bargain for our work rights, and for our working conditions," said Terry LaJeunesse, director of the local Michigan Education Association UniServ office. "We're not saying, 'Hand us a huge amount of money,' we're saying, 'Give us the ability to work with our employers to make these jobs and make Michigan the strong state that it once was.'"
Sherri Lewis of Portage Township marched with a sign supporting the Earned Income Tax Credit saying "$1 in EITC, $1.67 in U.P."
"I'm trying to get the message to the people with our signs and our rally," he said.
Many in the rally joined the march across the Portage Lake Lift Bridge to Hancock and back, followed by a brief protest at Veterans Park in Houghton.
One of them was Eugene Johnson of Eagle Harbor, who said the pendulum swung too far toward conservatism in 2010.
His biggest issue was legislation sponsored by Huuki that gave local units of government less control over approving mineral extraction.
"They didn't care about letting the local people handle it themselves. They came out on the side of business with little regard for the local people," he said. "That's happened again with education, with the cut to pension increases, and all the while giving companies tax breaks. I agree, we need jobs, but I don't agree with the way they're doing it."