Operating Engineers 520 speaks up for Illinois workers’ rights

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FIGHTING TO PRESERVE WORKMENS’ COMP: Mark Johnson, president of Operating Engineers Local 520 and Illinois state Representative Katie Stuart are warning against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s push to balance the state budget by scaling back workers’ protections.

By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Edwardsville IL – Members of Operating Engineers Local 520 are speaking up for Illinois’ workmens’ compensation system, with the help of state Representative Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville).

Local 520 President Mark Johnson described how devastating it is when a worker gets hurt on the job.

“It’s one of the hardest parts of my job, watching these families come into my office,” he said in a press conference at Edwardsville City Hall attended by a delegation from the union. “The one common denominator you see with all of them is that things had been going good.

“They were living a happy, middle class life, going to work every day, paying the bills, the kids are going to school, playing ball, and all of a sudden, the major breadwinner of the family gets injured.

“Their lives are turned upside down. Within a matter of months, they don’t know how they are going to make the house payment, they don’t know how they’re going to pay their medical bills.”

SCALING BACK PROTECTIONS

And yet, Governor Bruce Rauner is insisting on scaling back the workers’ compensation program that keeps these families afloat, Johnson said.

“Our billionaire governor is all of a sudden suggesting that these families of injured workers and dead workers are somehow the problem with our budget – that the only way we can address our budget is by stripping the rights of these extremely strong people at the most vulnerable time of their lives. This is absolutely appalling to me.

“We need to send a message to the governor that he needs to sit down with the Democrats in the House and the Senate and talk about the budget issues, and not demand stripping the rights of the working class and the injured workers in an effort to get there.”

ALABAMA’S BAD NEWS

Stuart cited a new Bloomberg Business report on Alabama, where wages, safety rules and workers compensation have been slashed to improve corporate profits regardless of the effects on workers.

“Now workers with little or no training are operating equipment that management knows to be unsafe,” she told the Local 520 members.

“Lost limbs and other catastrophic injuries are commonplace. Severely injured workers are left to support their families with pennies on the dollar compared to what they would get in states such as Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.”

In Alabama, factory workers are twice as likely to be killed as their Illinois counterparts, she said.

“Governor Rauner is trying to push Illinois into a race to the bottom, demanding lower wages for middle-class workers, less-safe workplaces, all with the sole purpose of further enriching corporations and corporate CEOs,” she said.

“We can all agree that Illinois needs to do more to grow our economy and create jobs, but I refuse to believe that cutting middle-class wages and stripping away middle-class protections to boost corporate profits is the only way to do that.”

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