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West Michigan labor unions rally for International Workers Day

By staff

Jessica Westra President Local 26 IATSE stagehands

Grand Rapids, MI – West Michigan labor unions joined by community and social justice groups celebrated International Workers Day on May 1 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This year May Day for workers focused on safe working conditions during the COVID pandemic, unemployment for stage hands and gig workers who are out of jobs, and building a stronger union movement through the PRO Act. Other speakers from community and social justice groups talked about immigrant rights for workers, criminal justice reform needed in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and the Equality Act in Congress.

“During this health crisis where 575,000 Americans and over 3 million have died worldwide, we want to remember those workers and retirees who lost their lives. On International Workers Day we stand in solidarity with workers around the world. All workers are essential!” said Josh Roskamp, business agent for IATSE Local 26.

Roskamp continued, “For a year now in Michigan, IATSE stagehands, with other unions, gig workers, and hotel and restaurant employees held rallies for unemployment at the state capitol. We demanded and won expanded and continued unemployment while we are out of work. Now we want 26 weeks restored by Michigan law makers, specifically the Republican legislators.”

The crowd chanted, “The workers united, will never be defeated!” and “Solidarity!”

The program included a memorial for Deirdre Chervenka, a stagehand who died this past winter. Tom Burke spoke about the inspiring role Deirdre Chervenka played in the union movement, organizing and winning a union election in a ticket sales company, and their contributions to the immigrant rights movement in Michigan. He led the crowd in a call and response of “Rest in power!”

The entire Chervenka family are an important part of the theater scene in West Michigan and the stagehands union IATSE. IATSE Local 26 President Jessica Westra presented a rainbow bouquet of flowers, with a transgender ribbon, to their parents.

The May Day rally took place at the Spirit of Solidarity labor monument. Speakers included a big lineup for a small city: Jessica Westra, IATSE 26; RiChard Jackson, ATU 836; Ryan Letts, Chair of the Kent Ionia Central Labor Council; Lily Cheng, candidate for Michigan 72nd House District, and Dee Dee Chaunte with Family Over Everything – the family and friends of Breonna Taylor, who was born in Grand Rapids.

Richard Jackson, President ATU 836 bus drivers

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