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Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce says they want everyone to be prosperous, but they really only mean business owners

May 20, 2021

Restaurant owners and workers have been in the news a great deal recently, since many restaurants are looking for staff, but workers are generally opposed to returning, since the wages are ridiculously low.

While there have been some places that are beginning to increase wages, there is also movement from federal politicians to pressure Governors around the US to “end state’s enhanced unemployment benefits.” In Michigan, seven Republican members of Congress are leaning on Gov. Whitmer to end enhanced unemployment benefits, claiming that it’s contributing to a labor shortage. 

In addition, the US Chamber of Commerce is pressuring Congress to put an end to the COVID-induced unemployment benefits. The left publication, Jacobin, reported recently:

As Washington’s largest spender on federal lobbying in 2020, the Chamber is widely considered the most powerful influence peddler for large corporations. Last week, the Chamber declared that “paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market” and called for “ending the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit.” Sixteen Republican governors have followed that demand after the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform dumped $850,000 into the Republican Governors Association in the last few years.

Restaurant workers are getting more organized and more people are waking up to the exploitative nature of the food industry. 

We could find no concrete evidence on whether or not the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is advocating for the same thing, although it seems like that they would endorse the same position that the national Chamber of Commerce is adopting.

As was mentioned in the Jacobin article, the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, along with regional Chambers in Michigan, also make it a point to lobby State Legislators on matters of interest to them. The Grand Rapids Chamber has a monthly “breakfast with Legislators” gathering, plus they have several staff and subcommittees committed to lobbying for state policies that would benefit the business class.

This is counter to what the Grand Rapids Chamber uses as part of their mission statement, which says, “The Grand Rapids Chamber continues to work toward cultivating a region that is thriving and prosperous for ALL.” This simply isn’t true. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is committed to promoting and defending the interests of the business class in this city. The GR Chamber does an annual survey to find out what its members want the Chamber to make as its priorities. Just check out this short video, which lays out the 2021 legislative priorities for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. 

The video makes it clear that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is “working to shape the policies to support a vibrant business climate.” The video states that the GR Chamber wants:

  • Property tax deferment for businesses, which Whitmer has vetoed twice
  • Regulatory flexibility 
  • A possible end to licensing fees
  • Eliminate or reduce business unemployment fees
  • Improve work research requirements to make people take jobs that don’t pay well
  • Education testing to make sure that students are work ready. In other words, the GR Chamber sees education as talent production
  • Creating more childcare options to get people back into the workforce and improve productivity
  • Criminal Justice reform for the GR Chamber is about getting more formerly incarcerated people into the workforce, which the Chamber also sees as a Talent issue
  • Continuation of the Going Pro Program, which transfers public money to private businesses for training purposes
  • Wants more housing, but not housing justice

You might remember in 2018, when there was backlash against the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce for endorsing Bill Schuette for Governor because of his anti-LGBTQ stance. We pointed out then that the GR Chamber of Commerce has a long history of endorsing policies that do tremendous harm, especially economic harm. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure and we need to understand that they represent systems of power and oppression, regardless of what their mission statement might suggest about wanting everyone to be prosperous. 

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