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A powerful display of solidarity: Union workers and immigrants came out to support each other’s struggles at the GR City Commission meeting last night

October 25, 2017

Last night, at the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, roughly 60 different people shared a simple message that was repeated throughout the public comment period, “Workers Rights are Immigrant Rights.”

There were some people who addressed issues around affordable housing and the AmplifyGR proposed development project, which are also urgent and impactful matters. However, what most people came to share last night focused on two intersecting issues.

First, the Grand Rapids branch of the Amalgamate Transit Union (ATU), which has been without a contract for some 2 years, came to push the city officials to get a fair contract signed. The ATU gathered outside of city hall prior to the event and held a small rally, which you can see in the video here.

Another important aspect about the gathering outside, was that ATU members shared with the crowd that their local is in support of immigrant rights and what groups like Movimiento Cosecha were calling for with a policy that made it clear that no city employee, especially police officers, would ever ask people what their immigrant status was. The ATU posted this statement saying:

We also ask that briefly during your public comment that you say something like, “I support an official written, Equal Service Policy that will affirm the City’s commitment to not ask about immigration status to help protect members of our immigrant community in Grand Rapids.”

Most of the City Commission meeting lasted about 45 minutes, which was mostly a formality of adopting what the committee of the whole adopted in the morning. It was during the public comment, when people articulated their solidarity for immigrant rights and worker rights.

As soon as public comment began, dozens of people stood up to stand in line for a chance to address the commissioners. There were people from many walks of life that spoke. Several high school students addressed the commission. Riley Wilson stated that it was essential for the city to adopt a fair contract for the Rapid bus drivers and that the city needed to adopt a policy to make sure that immigrants were not being targeted by city employees, especially police officers.

An immigrant women named Angelica, who spoke through a translator, came to tears as she spoke about the immigrant families who come into her store and share their fears of being deported and not feeling safe.

Lorena, who is a Latina immigrant and has her masters degree, worries about being pulled over and asked about her immigration status. She works with students and said that some of the students are afraid and don’t come to class.

Johana works at Burton Elementary School. She said that parents and students are afraid to come to meetings. “When parents are scared the kids don’t come to school and they are not learning.” 

A minister, who identified as Latino, said that many of his neighbors are immigrants who have expressed to him that they live in constant fear. “It is vitally important to have a policy where immigrants will not be asked about their status.”

Sergio, who came to the US as a boy with his parents, shared a bit of his story. He said that his parents came without documentation and were deported, leaving him there traumatized after having witnessed this forced separation. He said, “people did not stand up for me and my family, so I ask the commissioners to pass a policy that will guarantee that city employees will not ask people what their immigration status is.

Each of these immigrants, or those in solidarity with immigrants, also stated their support for the ATU and for a fair contract to be signed as soon as possible.

There were people who are educators that spoke in favor of both the ATU contract and the Equal Service policy that would provide some protections for immigrants. University students who share the same message and several people who talked about coming from union families who showed solidarity for both the bus drivers contract and the Equal Service policy.

One man who runs a food pantry in the southeast part of the city said that he has seen a 10% increase in people needing food assistance. He said it seemed as if there was a race to the bottom for a lot of people. “I support the bus drivers union and their desire to get a fair contract and immigrants who should not have to live in fear when interacting with city employees. Get a policy signed and take a stand for a fair contract.”

For over two hours, people spoke passionately and implored city officials to make sure a fair contract was signed with the bus driver’s union and to adopt a policy of Equal Service so that immigrants do not have to be asked about their status. Those who spoke made it clear that such actions needed to take place NOW!



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