President's Corner

June 2017 Engaging the Public for a Brighter Future

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President’s Corner

Engaging the Public for a Brighter Future

Brothers and Sisters,

This spring, we have taken a new step as an organization, and it is something we can all be proud of. If you watch TV or use social media, you have probably seen the ads that are running from the Fight Back Fund. They focus on the skills we bring to the job as well as the values we hold dear as citizens, neighbors and friends. The ads are running throughout our jurisdiction and beyond, and I know I have heard nothing but positive remarks from members and other labor organizations.

This effort goes back to the original behind the formation of the Fight Back Fund, which was to educate the public about the value of unions and what we do for all workers. What we found through the research that we conducted was that the vast majority of the public has either positive opinions on unions or wants to know more about unions. Going from there, when we told people who didn’t know much about unions exactly what we do, their neutral opinions quickly became favorable.

Simply put, the work we do is important to people and they support it. Unions have just done a terrible job of telling the public who we are and what we are about. Once we begin to engage the public, we will build support among people who never knew about us and didn’t know why we matter to them. This will make our fights against attacks on middle class workers much more effective. As I have said before, there aren’t enough union members to win these battles without help. We need the public, and as they are now realizing, they need us, too.

Growing up in a union household and as a lifelong member myself, I have always believed that not doing a better job of selling ourselves to the public has been one of organized labor’s greatest failures. When I look at the decline in membership over the past half century and the weakened influence of unions throughout many parts of the nation, I see missed opportunities. If unions had done a better job of this over the years, I believe we would be in a stronger position as a movement today.

However, as Joe Hill, a hero of mine, famously said, “Don’t Mourn. Organize!” Instead of lamenting the past, we can try to be a spark that strengthens our movement. In all my years in and around Local 150, I know it as an organization that leads rather than follows, that would rather dig in and fight for a cause than give an inch that our predecessors struggled for. With that said, I am proud to be a part of this effort, and I look forward to its evolution and – hopefully – growth throughout the movement.

As we continue this campaign, we will educate the public on issues like pay equality among genders and races. While the cry for equal pay grows louder and louder, a quick look at our contracts shows that a Local 150 member gets paid based on what he or she can do, never what he or she looks like. This is a value that we hold dear, and frankly, it has taken the public too long to catch up to us on it. Research and focus groups showed that this was one topic that made the public strongly support unions, so all we need to do is inform them that we already do. This will continue on issues like training, protection from corporate overreach, and many others. We can accomplish a lot through this effort, and we will try to bring others on board to broaden our reach.

Other labor leaders that I’ve spoken with are encouraged by this effort and want to support it. While pats on the back and thumbs up on the jobsite are nice, they don’t pay for advertising or research, so I am urging these folks to find a way to support this effort financially so that it get get larger and stronger.

The only reason this is possible is because of you. When the membership voted overwhelmingly to fund this effort, I knew it was a turning point for our organization. You took the initiative and put money into making a difference. When you come to a union meeting and get a Fight Back shirt or hardhat sticker, wear it with pride, knowing that you are a part of the solution. If a member of another trade mentions the commercials, tell them to get their local involved as well. Labor is strongest when we all work together with a common purpose, and that is needed now more than ever.

In Illinois, the race for Governor is on with nearly a year before the primary is held. This is sure to be one of the most contentious and expensive races any of us has every seen. If you thought Bruce Rauner spent a lot of his and his friends’ money last time, you haven’t seen anything yet. There is no amount of money he won’t spend to try to stay in power and make life easier for his rich buddies. Luckily, his campaign for change won’t work as well this time since he has done such a terrible job in his first term. Instead of progress, he has brought gridlock and fiscal crisis, and his approval numbers reflect that failure. Money may not be enough for Rauner to pull it off this time, but he’ll sure give it his best shot.

We have had conversations with all of the Democrats poised to run for Governor, and after careful deliberation, Local 150 has endorsed J.B. Pritzker in the Democratic Primary Election. Our issues are more than just talking points to him. When I first met with him, I was impressed with how well versed he was on our issues and how committed he was to fighting for them. The issues we hold near and dear won’t get left by the wayside in his campaign. Keep an eye on his campaign, and I think that you’ll be pleased by his determination to protect working people in Illinois.

There has been a lot of buzz over the past year or two that Governor Rauner might enrage his party enough to attract a primary opponent, but so far, nobody has stepped up. With the large number of Republican members in Local 150, we will closely monitor this situation and evaluate any candidate who does throw his or her hat into the ring. Governor Rauner has attacked unions from Day One, and it’s time to him to go.

Finally, we have seen progress in our contract negotiations. At the time of writing, we have reached a tentative agreement with the Will and Grundy County Contractors Association in Illinois, and look forward to working toward agreement with other associations on our Master Agreements. In Indiana, we reached a tentative agreement with the Michiana Builders on the District 6 building agreement. The District 7 Building Agreement is shaping up to be a challenging negotiation, but as I have written in past editions of this column, our proposals have been reasonable, and the negotiating committees representing hundreds of employers agree.

We will keep you updated on contract progress as it happens. Stand strong on the jobsite and work safely as we get into the heart of the work season. United We Stand, Divided We Fall.