By CARL GREEN
Belleville – Union members in St. Clair County find themselves in a new Congressional district this year, so they did something last week they never had to do before – endorse a candidate for Congress in the 13th District.
In an enthusiastic voice vote, the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council unanimously endorsed Democratic primary candidate Nikki Budzinski, a veteran union organizer and leader from Springfield.
She spoke to them before the endorsement.
“I’m a Democrat, but I’m a union Democrat,” she said. “My grandpa was a union painter. My grandma and my grandpa both were union public school teachers and members of the Illinois Education Association, and they taught me about the value of hard work, but also the importance of the Labor Movement and what it means to people getting to the middle class.
“I want to be on the front line of working people,” she added. “That’s why I’m running. That’s what I think this region deserves.”
HISTORY OF UNION, POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
Budzinski in the past decade has had important political and union positions including serving as national political director for the UFCW, leading the fight for a $15 minimum wage in the Illinois Legislature for Gov. J.B. Pritzker and heading the Office of Management and Budget for President Biden.
“I’ve seen the work, what happens with hard-working men and women working in a slaughterhouse, and what it means to them to have safe working conditions, make good wages and be able to retire with dignity,” she told the council. “That difference is the union and their union contract.”
Budzinski has already been endorsed by senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, state Rep. Jay Hoffman, the AFL-CIO and a long list of individual unions. She holds a huge fund-raising lead over both Democratic and Republican primary candidates.
“We’re really picking up steam,” she said. “This is going to be a tough year for Democrats, but if we get working people out to vote, we’re going to win the Workers Rights Amendment and I’m going to win the 13th District, but I’m not going to do it without your help.
“I’m not just a Democrat, I am a union Democrat who wants to go to Congress to fight for working people.”
‘STEPPING INTO THE BREECH’
Eddie Caumiant, regional director for AFSCME Council 31 and a member of the Council, asked Budzinski if she will work closely with unions if she is elected.
“Thank you for stepping into the breech, and doing the work and being willing to dig in,” he said. “Few of us engage in the way that you’re doing, but it’s critically important.
“We need access to those levers, and specifically in the Democratic Party I’m always looking for a candidate who will really help us engage those campaigns in ways our members can understand and need to have in order to participate.”
Budzinski responded: “I want to be on the front line of working people. That’s why I’m running. That’s what I think this region deserves.”
Caumiant noted the successful organizing campaigns at some Amazon and Starbucks locations and said they bode well for the Labor Movement.
“This is a really big year,” he said. “I really think we can make a huge difference this year if we keep our ears to the wheel and elect people like Nikki to the places they need to be, because we can change this world if we decide to do it.”
Council President Scot Luchtefeld noted that he got to watch the National Labor Relations Board count ballots from workers at five Starbucks shops in Richmond, VA, the first to unionize in that state.
“All five of them voted yes, and we’re talking about a right-to-work state,” he said. “Things are getting better.”
Southwestern Illinois Building Trades’ Oller visits
Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council
The Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council also had a visit from Eric Oller, the newly elected executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, replacing Totsie Bailey of Steamfitters Local 439, whose term expires June 1.
As business manager of Laborers Local 459, Oller also is the host of the Labor Council meetings, which are held at the Belleville Laborers’ hall on 17th Street. Bailey replaced longtime leader Dale Stewart when he retired four years ago.
“I’ve been a part of the building trades for about 18 years,” Oller said. “As soon as I walked in that door, I was very proud to be a part of that. One of my mentors was Dale Stewart, who set the way for a lot of us, not just in the building trades but in the whole region.”
His term with the Trades Council begins June 1.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill. I’m still getting my feet wet,” he said. “I’m going to try to ease into this, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”