By CARL GREEN
Collinsville, IL – Unions coming from different industries don’t always see eye to eye, but when they get together, it can be a beautiful thing.
Like the recent rally AFSCME Council 31 hosted to battle against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s anti-worker agenda, but it wasn’t just AFSCME people.
More than 400 union members – tradesmen and women, steel workers, letter carriers, laborers, teachers, service workers and more – crammed into the meeting hall of IBEW Local 309.
It was one in a series of seven “Stand Up for Fairness!” rallies being held around the state, including Chicago, Joliet, Quad-Cities, Rockford, Springfield and even Marion in southern Illinois, where an estimated 700 showed up for a rally to defeat Rauner’s attempts to win control of the Legislature next year and to prod him into making fair contracts with public employees.
“It is a referendum on whether or not working men and women will be able to continue to put food on their families’ tables,” said C.J. Baricevic, a Belleville lawyer running for Congress in the 12th District. “We have seen what happens when Republican leadership takes over. It is failed leadership at a fundamental level.
“Their party wants to break the backs of working people,” Baricevic added. “Make no bones about, they have made it a party platform to dismantle the middle class.”
Speakers ranged from poorly paid personal service workers in the Service Employees union to the deputy director of Illinois AFSCME.
• Jennifer Curtis, caseworker for the Illinois Department of Human Services in East Alton and an AFSCME member, described how Rauner’s refusal to agree on a state budget is hurting the vulnerable people she was hired to help.
“Our clients say they never wanted to ask for this help, and they don’t want to take a handout. We tell them it’s not forever, it’s just until they don’t need it anymore,” she said. “But now we have a governor who is putting all of that help at risk and holding hostage the entire state budget – all in an effort to gain leverage and destroy our unions.
“He made big cuts to the child care program. I had clients who had to turn down job offers and stay on state aid because they couldn’t find anybody to watch their kids. There’s no funding for heating assistance, so my elderly clients on fixed incomes are really worried about what they’re going to do.
“Gov. Rauner claims he cares about the services we provide, but he doesn’t want to fund them.”
A THERAPY AIDE
• Tammy Smith, a security therapy aide and member of AFSCME, described how hard it has been for her union to win a fair contract from the state. Her duties include caring for mentally ill people awaiting trial.
“We have a tough job,” she said. “But this is my life. This is how I put food on the table. I love my job, I love what I do.”
She appreciated the revival atmosphere and unity of the rally.
“This feels like a family reunion!” she noted. “I know what one person can do. All of us together can make a real difference,” she added.
HOME HEALTH AIDE
• Paralee Stewart, a member of Service Employees International Union, said Rauner has called her work assisting the elderly and disabled as “glorified baby sitting” and that he tried to avoid paying the 28,000 workers until they won in court.
“Come walk in my shoes,” she said in remarks directed at Rauner. “Yes, gas is down but eggs are high and bacon has become a Sunday meal.
“When we ask for just a little bit, and you tell us ‘no,’ and you make $28,000 an hour, then you’re talking to the wrong people!” She was greeted with loud applause.
She described their efforts to win the public opinion battle. “We took to the streets. We talked to the neighbors. We talked to everyone who would catch our eye. And then we started talking to the media,” she said. “We clowned – all across this state. We did not shut up. And I’m happy to say that he has backed down.”
“We’re still fighting for our elderly and our disabled,” she added.
“Sometimes their only contact to the outside world is us. And you‘re telling them they’re not worth it? We say, yes they are. These are our sisters, our brothers, our mothers, our aunts, our friends, our neighbors. You don’t tell us not to care about them!”
THE COUNTY RECORDER
• Amy Meyer, the Madison County recorder, described growing up in a union family – her mother worked for the state in mental health services.
“She came home every day, telling me stories that you would not believe. I grew up knowing how hard AFSCME workers work every single day,” Meyer said.
“It is ridiculous for this governor to think that these employees should have to compete for bonuses just to get the pay that they deserve.”
And retirees deserve the pensions they have earned, she added.
“This is the backbone of our middle class, and we can’t stand strong without that,” she said. “We can’t allow Gov. ‘Ruiner’ to make Illinois his personal kingdom. We are not going to allow him to privatize our state’s essential services and try to bust our unions.”
The excited audience laughed at her twist on Rauner’s name and joined heartily in her final resolution.
“To Gov. Rauner and your plan, we don’t just say ‘no,’ we say ‘HELL no!’”
PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS
• Mike Newman, Illinois deputy director for AFSCME, traveled to Collinsville to give the final summation and took the opportunity to remind the ralliers of the ways public service union members make Illinois a better place to live.
“Public service workers in Illinois provide education, we keep the community safe, we protect the kids, we take care of the sick and elderly, we’re correctional officers, we’re emergency responders,” he said. “Everybody in public service serves the community every single day.
“We’re here to demand respect from those who are intent on tearing down our state, on tearing down all that makes our state a fair, honorable and decent place to live and to work.”
And he said it will be this kind of grassroots effort that helps defeat
Rauner’s agenda. “We will knock on doors in numbers like he has never seen before,” Newman said. “We will make sure that Gov. Rauner’s vision does not become a reality.”