For the first time ever, trade unions were invited to sponsor and speak at last week’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, Michigan’s biennial bellwether GOP summit. Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra took the stage with representatives of both Operating Engineers 324 and Michigan Laborers District Council to discuss their shared values and the future of union-Republican collaboration.
The OE324 and MLDC together represent almost 30,000 construction workers in Michigan whose handiwork is considered the gold standard in construction, road building, and pipelines.
“Right to work and prevailing wage, that’s behind us. We are about moving forward,” OE324 Political Director William Miller III told The Detroit News at Saturday’s conference. “We are truly policy over party.”
Is this what happens when Republicans make good on their claim as the party of the working class? Absolutely, and the evidence is increasing. Consider the proposal from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., for a “blue-collar bonus,” or the Republicans trying to resuscitate the Keystone XL Pipeline construction — and thousands of good-paying American jobs — that President Biden canceled on his first day in office.
President Trump captured the populist rhetoric of a movement that’s really happening, and Lansing is no exception.
Republicans Are Now Unions’ Only Ally
For professional trade unions in Michigan — as for any entity focused on longevity, opportunity, fewer regulations, and lower taxes for hard-working people — Republicans aren’t just one ally in Lansing, they are the only ally in Lansing. Where Democrats once advocated for trade union values, they now choose activism over job creation, time after time.
For an example, see the fight in Michigan over Enbridge Energy’s Line 5. With no impetus except Green Deal activism against fossil fuels, Democrats started a court battle aimed at shutting down Line 5, the pipeline that transports more than half a million barrels a day of oil and natural gas liquids throughout the Great Lakes region.
Closure of the pipeline would kill tens of thousands of jobs, hurt farmers, remove a source of essential heat to thousands of Michigan families, diminish state tax revenue, and cut off crude oil supply to refineries across the Midwest.
Democrats show not only resistance regarding Line 5, but heartless cynicism. They offer no viable solution to the pipeline’s closure and the enormous effect on human lives. Their disdain for rural life is palpable.
Contrast this with trade union leaders on the GOP stage Saturday describing their apprenticeship and credential training programs popular among Michigan “farm boys,” who can work as union tradesmen during their offseasons to support their families.
How Working in Trades Blessed My Life
I’m proud to be among the Republicans in Lansing who helped get the trade unions to Mackinac last week. I’ve spent much of my 20 years in various roles within the Michigan legislature championing trades, apprenticeships, and alternative educational options because it’s so personal to me.
My first time experiencing teamwork in my life was as a boy on a special construction site helping volunteer laborers and tradesmen build the Habitat for Humanity house my parents were to own.
I struggled with algebra in high school and my first year of college, after which I dropped out. The structural and psychological barriers to earning my bachelor’s degree as an adult learner fueled my passion to give Michiganders the widest, most varied access to apprenticeships, credentials, certificates, two-year degrees, and four-year degrees.
A Pathway to Good Jobs with No Debt
Sadly, access to information is a battle. What far too many young Americans don’t know is tuition-free trade programs are hungry for students, and most provide compensation and leave no burden of debt. They don’t know there are tuition-free six-month welding courses offering certificates recognized in all 50 states. There are many more such programs that provide skills for life.
Bipartisan by necessity, legislation furthering trade union values isn’t driven by Democrats anymore, and hasn’t been for years. Republicans are the leaders of policy and legislative actions on issues such as apprenticeship visibility, competency-based education, and the modern reality of high-wage, high-tech opportunities in manufacturing.
Shattering narrow interpretations of education and skills bears fruit. Companies such as Walgreens have taken a courageous chance on special-needs accommodations in their workplaces and found extreme success, particularly within their warehouse facilities staffed by special-needs adults, whose abilities and attendance have routinely exceeded regular workforce performance.
The modern apprenticeship is a powerful antidote to the dogmatic obstinance within progressive higher education that’s left far too many graduates with unmarketable degrees and crushing debt. And the gold standard for tuition-free modern apprenticeships? Professional trade unions.
If trade unions and Republicans are collaborating in Michigan, it won’t be long before the nation is following suit.