AFT’s Weingarten: “No poll that matters but Election Day.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten | AP

CASEYVILLE, Ill.–Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, kicked off the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council’s labor election rally with a fist-pumping exhortation to get the labor vote out on Nov. 6.

“There is no poll that matters but Election Day,” Weingarten declared.

“And that’s why – if we really believe in working people having a decent wage, if we really believe we shouldn’t be one illness away from bankruptcy, if we really believe our kids should get a decent education regardless of their zip code, if we really believe Labor should have a voice at work and in our democracy – if we really believe all that, then this election is like no other, because we can’t win if we don’t get people out.”

Weingarten’s Southern Illinois appearance was one of a slew by union leaders nationwide, fanning out to motivate unionists to campaign and encourage them and pro-worker voters to head to the polls on or – if they’re voting by mail or absentee – before Nov. 6.

Other leaders hit the road elsewhere. For example, Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox, another stem-winding speaker, headed for his native North Carolina in September – and is staying there in the Tar Heel State.

In Caseyville, about 400 people turned out for the Sept. 15 rally including J.B. Pritzker, the AFL-CIO-endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, local candidates and union members from throughout the region.

The tide is turning against corporate Republicans like Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, Weingarten said. Rauner became notorious for making a fiscal mess in the Land of Lincoln in his drive to break state workers’ unions, including the Teachers.

“This guy uses all the money in the world, wins four years ago, does everything in his power to strip everyone’s voice here and then he tries to pit people against each other,” she said.

Totsie Bailey, executive financial secretary of the Building Trades Council, said it’s time for labor voters to show up and support the Democratic public officials and candidates who have stood with workers, while Republicans joined Rauner in trying to reduce worker rights.

“Rauner went after everybody in organized labor,” Bailey said. “He went after the teachers; he went after AFSCME; he went after the building trades; he went after project labor agreements. Anyone who went against him in support of organized labor, he went after – every state representative, every state senator.”

“There is a difference between Democrats and Republicans,” Bailey said. “The Republicans have no use for you! They don’t care about you! They want what corporations want. They want what’s cheapest for them, so they can make more money.

“We just want to make a living to send our kids to school, to live in a house we don’t have to rent, so we don’t have to decide between paying for medicine or rent. We just want a decent living for all of us,” Bailey added.

Pritzker unloaded on Rauner, noting the governor’s recent “mea culpa” speech in which Rauner claimed he must have been “too courageous” in trying to defeat workers’ rights.

“For three and a half years, he’s been attacking working families,” Pritzker said. “At the expense of working families in Illinois, Bruce Rauner just learned something that we all learned in kindergarten – that, yes, you’ve got to work together with people to get things done. But we can’t give him four more years to try to figure the whole thing out. It’s time for him to go!”

Rauner’s attack ads have done nothing to show his record as governor or plans for the future, and the reason is clear, Pritzker said, “He has nothing.”

“He has not run a single ad where he looks you in the eye and tells you what he wants to do for you for the next four years or what he has done for you for the last three-and-a-half years,” Pritzker said. “You know why that is? He has nothing. He has nothing to brag about. The man has done nothing for the state of Illinois or for working families. It is time for a change!”

Pritzker spelled out some of his top priorities for working families, including: Reducing costs for higher education, returning vocational training and technical education to high schools, providing quality K-12 education for every child, lowering the cost of health care and covering everyone and increasing the minimum wage.

“I think you want a governor who is fighting to raise your wages, who is fighting to protect our labor unions, who believes in collective bargaining rights and who wants safer workplaces,” Pritzker said. “You want someone who wakes up every day thinking about how to make working families’ lives better in this state.”

12th Congressional District candidate Brendan Kelly, a Democrat from Swansea, echoed those views. He pointed out that economic gains have not been evenly distributed between the wealthy and workers.

“There are a few people at the top who are doing really, really well. The stock market is going up, and so are their bank accounts,” Kelly said. “You know what else is going up? The cost of health care, the cost of prescriptions, the cost of education – all those things are going up. You know what’s not going up? Wages are not going up. They’re trying to destroy organized labor.

“This district is not about left versus right,” Kelly said. “This is about David versus Goliath.”

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, said he wants to work with the next governor instead of against him, as he has had to do with Rauner.

“For the last four years, I’ve sat across the table from Bruce Rauner, trying to negotiate something that’s reasonable for the state budget,” Hoffman said. “And all he wants to do – all they want to do in his administration – is to tear down organized labor, to tear down working families, to get rid of prevailing wage, to get rid of project labor agreements, to get rid of the right to band together and organize… to decimate the workers’ compensation system and safety in the workplace.”

Glyn Ramage, president of the Southwestern Illinois Laborers District Council and chief organizer of the rally, urged union members to make the Nov. 6 election one that changes the state and the nation.

“It now falls on each and every one of us to get out and vote,” Ramage said. “We can’t leave it in this park today. We have to take it to the streets, and pass it on to our brothers and our sisters, and our mothers and our fathers. This is a pyramid thing, and we can build it big, and we can win big in November.”

Carl Green is the Illinois correspondent for the St. Louis Labor Tribune


Carl Green
Carl Green

Carl Green is a reporter for the St. Louis Labor Tribune.