Jan 4, 2023 - Politics

Detroiters hold "cautious optimism" over new Democratic majority

Detroit skyline above the Russell Industrial Center

Detroit skyline above the Russell Industrial Center. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Detroit Democrats may have the most to gain from the makeup of Michigan's new Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Why it matters: Major legislative opportunities to address problems unique to Detroiters have become possible thanks to the "unprecedented alignment" between city and state leaders.

  • Action that local leaders have been pushing for years — like addressing gun safety laws and affordable housing or repealing right to work and Michigan's "Death Star" law — are now on the table.
  • “With such unprecedented alignment between Detroit and Lansing, we can bring more positive change to our community than has ever been possible," Hassan Beydoun, an adviser to Mayor Mike Duggan in Lansing, told Axios in a statement.

Context: Right to work, the law passed by Republicans in 2013, allows nonunion employees to reap the same benefits as union members even if they opt out of dues, giving all employees the rights and benefits of members in the bargaining unit.

  • Critics say it has diluted union power.
  • It's unclear whether Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would support its repeal.

The intrigue: It's still a wait and see approach for progressive Democrats, some of whom are worried that moderate Democrats will prioritize corporate interests over voters.

  • "It's reckless to put anything before repealing right to work," says Wayne County Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch. "There would not be a Dem victory without money and support that came from labor unions, period. I was on those campaign calls, consistently hearing their support."

What they're saying: "Right to work has not helped support people in our communities as far as sustaining job opportunities or career opportunities," Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) tells Axios.

  • "There are a ton of folks in Detroit who pay union dues and right to work has really weakened their voice, both on the job site as well as in the broader political economy," Detroit Action executive director Branden Snyder tells Axios.

What's next: Snyder says he's cautiously optimistic about the new Democratic majority and whether new House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) will vote on behalf of corporate interests or the public.

  • Campaign finance records show Tate has received $7,500 from DTE amid mounting public pressure against the utility company.
  • He was also among the group of lawmakers who signed nondiscussion agreements during last year's controversial negotiations over a $1 billion state tax incentives for large businesses.

The bottom line: "There have been a lot of lawmakers who have been cozy with our big corporate power players and now is the time they have to decide whether to continue to stand with corporations or we'll hold them accountable and make sure they aren't reelected," Snyder says.


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