LANSING, Mich. – Two thousand workers attended a rally here March 13 at the state capitol. The rally was called by the State AFL-CIO to pressure the right wing Republican-controlled legislature to increase the benefit amount to unemployed workers.

The maximum benefit has been frozen at $300.00 a week since 1995 when the legislature followed the lead of the chamber of commerce to create “ a friendly business climate” in Michigan.The present legislature originally refused to raise the maximum amount even though inflation would have raised the benefit to $415 a week.

They also tried to put in a penalty week, which would make workers wait a week to get a check. This week would be returned if a worker was off before the full 26 weeks. Most workers are off after an average of 15 weeks. Seasonal and construction workers would especially be penalized since they would have to serve a penalty week every time they were laid off.

Another penalty that was in the Republican-sponsored bill was a clause that would have taxed every worker $12.a year to pay for their unemployment insurance.

Speakers at the rally included Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan State AFL-CIO, Bob King, vice president of the United Auto Workers, Larry Roerigh, vice president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, Harry Lester, regional director of the United Steelworkers of America, Don Boggs, president of the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO and retired Bishop Jesse DeWitt of the United Methodist Church. DeWitt encouraged the workers to lobby their representatives, with special emphasis on moderate Republicans, since all the Democrats were committed to support the increase and oppose the penalties.

Several days after the rally a bill passed the house that eliminated the penalties and raised the benefit to $375. The State Chamber of Commerce is lobbying the State Senate to keep the $300 cap and reinstate the penalties. Organized labor and their supporters are ready to return to see that this does not happen.