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Turning our emotions into action –and VOTES

8/13/2018
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case marked one of the low points in modern American labor history. I have no doubt that many of you, like me, first felt dejected when the decision was announced. After all, the nation’s highest court sided with wealthy corporate interests like the DeVos family and Koch brothers against the best interests of working people and our communities. You’ll recall that the case was originally brought by our own Governor Rauner, whose sole purpose from Day One has been to weaken our unions.

But this latest attack on our unions is far from being a death blow. In fact, it is an incredible opportunity to engage members and make our unions even stronger. For inspiration, we need only look around us to see what unions have done – and are doing – to improve lives and communities.

I recently went with AFL-CIO leaders to Mt. Olive, Ill., to visit the grave of pioneering labor activist Mother Jones. I had been there many times before, but this time union miners were there, too. They were the descendants of many of the workers who lie buried near Mother Jones in the only union cemetery in the United States. One retired miner showed me his late grandfather’s check stub from 1938: it showed that John Frigo, a Czech immigrant, earned $36 for that pay period and gladly paid $1.50 in union dues. I felt a deep connection to the vein of unionism as I stood surrounded by these workers whose commitment to the union is as deep as the coal they once mined. And I was so proud to see the IFT’s name atop the monument acknowledging those who provided financial support to help refurbish this national landmark.

The next day, I joined hundreds of teachers and clergy on the Texas-Mexico border to protest the Trump administration’s inhumane incarceration of immigrant children. It was deeply troubling, but to be in the presence of so many teachers, faith leaders, Dolores Huerta, and union allies from around the world was uplifting. We prayed and attempted (unsuccessfully) to deliver books and toys to the children held in tents in 107-degree weather. The experience reminded me that our unionism compels us to defend these children and their families, much as it compelled Walter Reuther to commit UAW resources to the civil rights movement. The fight for social justice is inseparable from our unionism. As Mother Jones declared, “I am an organizer, an agitator, and an aggravator. I act because I love humanity.”

So as the ramifications of the Janus decision rolled out in late June, I quickly went from being disheartened to being inspired. I thought about our union’s tremendous preparation. Our staff, leaders, and members knew what had to be done next, and everyone hit their marks. That incredible effort and solidarity speaks volumes for our union’s ability to thrive.

The fact is, now we are all part of writing another crucial chapter in the history of the American labor movement. And the outcome is up to us.
 
Governor Rauner and many Republican lawmakers in Springfield have made it clear they stand on the side of anti-union funders and big corporations. In the upcoming election, we must come together and stand up for our side – middle-class workers and the students and citizens who rely on us. I don’t have to reiterate the stakes for you: we can simply sit by and accept another four devastating years under Bruce Rauner, the progenitor of Janus. Or we can commit to support JB Pritzker and Juliana Stratton, who will work with us and sign laws and issue executive orders to give workers a stronger voice.

The choice is crystal clear. It’s time to convert our emotions over the Janus decision into action and votes in the upcoming election.

At the ballot box and the bargaining table, time and again our unions have proven that our power lies in our members. Together, we will continue to do what our unions do best – advocate for what is right and good and just. No court decision can change that.
 
It is an utmost honor and privilege to fight alongside you during this historic time. 
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