Grand Rapids unions rally on International Workers Day

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Supporters of several working groups from the Grand Rapids area gathered on Saturday to celebrate International Workers Day.

The rally took place next to the Spirit of Solidarity memorial on Pearl Street NW and Front Avenue near the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

The memorial pays homage to the “Great Furniture Strike of 1911” in Grand Rapids, which generally resulted in better wages and shift times for workers.

Representatives of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 26, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 836 and the Kent-Ionia Labor Council spoke at the event on Saturday.

Related: Efforts to unionize Amazon workers in Alabama spur the Grand Rapids rally

Tom Burke, an IATSE member, said one goal of the rally was to promote the right to organize law – a national law that would give unions a boost.

The bill was passed by the US House but is likely to have a much more difficult path in the Senate.

“In the United States, we are fighting to keep unions functioning and organized,” he said. “There are many labor laws that need to be reformed that are directed against us.”

Richard Jackson, president of ATU Local 836, said he recently wrote a letter to organizers seeking to unionize an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama. The efforts failed after a workers’ vote that was more than two-to-one against it.

“I remember what it was like to be involved in a fight that, in all likelihood, was not winnable but was necessary,” he said.

He described the failure to unionize in Alabama as a “loss of education”.

“Organizational effort is never wasted,” he said. “The bosses will never back down, and neither should we.”

Related: Stagehands rally to extend Grand Rapids unemployment benefits by $ 600

Ryan Letts, chairman of Kent-Ionia Labor Council, said 107 counties around the world are celebrating International Workers’ Day, also known as May 1st.

“This day is to remember our struggles, the struggles of the brave individuals who came before us, and somehow resuscitate us in this struggle to push that needle forward,” he said.

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