Large protest set Wednesday for Michigan Capitol

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Thousands of Michigan teachers, public employees and others are preparing to protest Wednesday at the state Capitol in continued opposition to budget plans proposed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-led Legislature.
Organizers say the rally scheduled for Wednesday could be the biggest yet for the state’s current budget cycle. It’s expected to include workers represented by the Michigan AFL-CIO, teachers unions and other many groups.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney says Republicans are moving ahead too quickly with budget plans, prompting protesters to turn out in the thousands in hopes of having their concerns heard.
“They’re hurrying to get this done and the result of that is they’re not listening to everyone involved enough,” Gaffney said Tuesday.

Unions are upset about proposals they say would undermine collective bargaining rights, such as a new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power over schools and communities facing financial distress including the authority to toss out union contracts. Other groups are upset about proposed cuts to education funding and other programs.

A proposal to tax retirement income also has sparked protests. Snyder and Republican leaders modified that plan late Tuesday so it no longer would affect as many people. The new plan would continue to exempt retirees who will be 67 or older as of Jan. 1, 2012.

The Republican governor had wanted to tax all retirement income the same as normal income in a bid to raise $900 million to help pay for a business tax cut, but many lawmakers balked after seniors made their displeasure clear.

Teachers’ issues have taken center stage since the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, last month began asking its 155,000 statewide members for permission to “initiate crisis activities up to and including job action,” which could include a strike considered illegal under Michigan law. The MEA says it is not publicly releasing the results of the ongoing authorization votes.

Republican lawmakers quickly responded to what they perceived as an MEA strike threat with legislation that would put teeth into the state’s current law banning strikes. The proposals call for stiff fines and the suspension of licenses for teachers for at least two years if they participate in an illegal strike. Teachers could lose their licenses permanently in some cases.

MEA officials have been downplaying the possibility of a walkout in recent weeks. But union leaders say they’re under attack in Lansing and that teachers have been made to feel like scapegoats for budget problems.

“It is a high level of frustration,” said Rosemary Carey, an MEA spokeswoman.

A March 16 rally drew more than 3,000 people and ended with 14 arrests, mostly for refusing to leave the Capitol after it was scheduled to close for the night. Some of those arrested were protesting the new emergency financial manager law.


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