By CARL GREEN
Collinsville, IL – It’s been a dispiriting election season at times, so labor leaders and the candidates they support not only are fighting for votes, but against the apathy that can arise when the campaigning seems to be nothing but negative.
Thursday, Oct. 13, was the last meeting of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council before the Nov. 8 election, and the message from council leaders and candidates alike was, “Get out the vote, as if your life depended on it – because it does!”
Even though the major-party presidential candidates are often held in low regard, one is an avowed opponent of unions and the other is a strong Labor supporter.
And all down the Democratic ticket, candidates are pledged to help keep unions strong and effective for their members and for the nation.
“We need to do everything we can, guys, for this election,” said Charles “Totsie” Bailey, business manager for Steamfitters Local 439 and president of the Council “It’s going to go down in history. We’ll either be big winners or losers. There’s not going to be any in between.”
Each of the candidates echoed that message:
JOHN BARICEVIC, chief judge in St. Clair County now running for re-election, said turnout will be the determining factor and that union members enamored of Donald Trump’s bluster need to reconsider.
“I’ve been going door to door, and there will be a yard sign for one of us Democrats, and then a Trump sign next to it,” he said. “Getting them to come back over on the Democratic side is just crucial.”
This election is full of judicial elections on the circuit and appellate level that will affect the region for years to come, he noted.
“Every judge that has been put on the ballot by the Republican Party has been rated unacceptable by the bar association – not by the Democrats, but by the bar association,” he noted. “Turnout is going to make all the difference in the world.”
MARK KERN, the St. Clair County Board chairman running for re-election, told of how a union member put up signs for several Democrats only to see his wife add another sign the next day saying, “Don’t vote for any of ’em!”
“I think that kind of tells where we are,” Kern said. “People don’t really get that Trump is for national right-to-work. My opponent was a fair-share guy. He didn’t join the police union until he ran for election because it wasn’t expedient for him. They don’t believe in what we believe in.”
Kern said the television advertising bombardment against Democratic legislative candidates such as Rep. Dan Beiser of Alton and challenger Katie Stuart of Edwardsville relies on misleading and irrelevant information and is paid for by anti-union Governor Bruce Rauner’s millions.
“Poor Katie Stuart – every commercial on TV is saying that she’s responsible for Chicago schools being funded, but Katie Stewart’s not even in the Legislature,” Kern said.
“It’s a ton of money, they’re against us and they’re dumping it in. But you guys have been out beating on doors and your members have been beating on doors, and we appreciate that, because that’s what it’s going to take, this election,” he added.
“We’re putting forth a good campaign, but we just need that extra push because there is some apathy out there among groups.”
BOB DAIBER, the Madison County Regional Schools superintendent, a Labor supporter who is not up for election this year, said unions must not overlook the local elections next spring, when they have the chance to place members on school boards, city councils and other jurisdictions.
“We need representation from organized labor on these boards,” he said. “If you don’t have a voice of labor there, for instance, many of the people on those boards have no idea what prevailing wage is even about. They’re voting on a prevailing wage ordinance, and they have to ask the superintendent why that is important.”
Daiber called for continued efforts to help CJ Baricevic win in Illinois’ 12th Congressional District over Republican incumbent Mike Bost, who has been no friend to working people.
“This is our opportunity to take back a congressional seat,” Daiber said. “We’ve got to do everything possible to get this guy elected. We need to make sure that we keep this region strong for labor.”
TOM GIBBONS, the Madison County state’s attorney who is up for re-election, said his mission is to be positive and help people stay out of trouble while also being tough on offenders who need to be put away.
“As a prosecutor, part of my job is I’ve got to hammer bad guys, and I love doing that,” he said. “But there also are opportunities to give people a good swift kick and get them back on the right path and move them toward a positive life, being positive members of the community.”
Gibbons spoke up for Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, a key labor supporter who faces a challenge for re-election from County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler.
“The choice couldn’t be any more clear,” he said. “You’ve got a guy over here on the Republican side who won’t even sign the collective bargaining contract with the AFSCME employees in his office – a judge had to enforce that contract.
“He’s done everything he can to drive down the number of positions in his office that are organized. If you think that’s bad, wait until he gets hold of all of Madison County.”
JO BETH WEBER, an elected circuit judge and now a candidate for the appellate court, described how she worked her way up from humble beginnings, including defeating an opponent for circuit judge who had twice the resources that she did.
“If you get out and knock on doors, meet people and do your best to shake their hands and make them understand how important this election is, you can win a race with less than half the money of your opponent,” she said. “Don’t be scared off by Governor Rauner’s money. Don’t feel that we have no chance of winning because of that.”
DALE STEWART, executive secretary-treasurer of the Trades Council, told the local leaders that they need to be talking to their members about the election.
“If we’re not communicating with our members, it’s shame on us,” he said. “If we lose the state representatives, if we lose CJ’s election, if we lose our county board chairmen, our lives are going to change, and there’s nobody to blame but ourselves.
“All we’re asking is, ‘Let’s keep this going.’ We’ve really got to bite into this.”
Union people in Illinois need to remember that Rauner’s messages are not based in fact, Stewart added.
“This governor, he’s spending all the money he can on some of these races – like these TV ads he’s running against the legislative candidates. It’s all false. We’ve got to get the message out.”