Thousands of union activists converge on Capitol

1:02 AM, Feb 27, 2011   |    comments
Photo courtesy: Lansing State Journal
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LANSING, Mich. (Lansing State Journal) -- Michael Belligan does not belong to any union. But he wanted to lend his voice to a cause that he believes affects him nearly as much as hundreds of thousands of union members statewide.

Waving a sign that read "Solidarity, the East Lansing man stood shoulder-to-shoulder Saturday afternoon with more than 2,000 union members and other activists outside the Capitol to rally for the rights of workers in Michigan and nationwide.

Belligan, 31, who works as a technician at a Lansing-area engineering firm, said he believes a proposed pension tax and bills in the Legislature that would curb collective bargaining rights is an assault on the middle class and his way of life.

"As unions go, so goes the middle class," Belligan said.

The Rally to Save the American Dream, which began at noon on Saturday, is part of an effort by public employee unions and to organize protests at state capitols around the country to support public workers in Wisconsin. There, tens of thousands of workers have stormed the Capitol in Madison to protest Gov. Scott Walker's push to curb collective bargaining rights of public workers to balance the budget.

Saturday's rally is the largest union rally of a series of rallies that began Tuesday at the Capitol. This week, thousands of public workers and private sector workers have descended on the Capitol to protest bills that would make Michigan a right to work state, curtail prevailing wage laws, remove binding arbitration for police and firefighters and expand the power of state officials to curb collective bargaining for public sector employees during financial emergencies.

Stan Jonik, 56, Detroit, an electrical worker who retired last year because of arthritis, said he believed the anti-union bills would hurt the ability of his fellow union members to negotiate good wages. Jonik, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58, also is upset at Gov. Rick Snyder's proposal to tax pensions, which Jonik says will make it harder for him to make ends meet.

"They're trying to take more away from us," Jonik said. "We're out here today to protest these things they're trying to jam down our throats."

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