Illinois AFL-CIO gets candidates to back “contract with the middle class”
FIGHTING FOR WORKERS by signing the Illinois AFL-CIO’s “Contract with the Middle Class” were (front, from left) State Representative Monica Bristow, State Senate candidate Rachelle Aud Crowe, State Representative Katie Stuart and State Representative LaToya Greenwood. Thanking the candidates are (back row from left) Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Totsie Bailey and Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan. State Senate candidate Christopher Belt (at right), also proudly signed the pledge. | St. Louis Labor Tribune

In what may be a first for unions nationwide, the Illinois State AFL-CIO has drafted – and is getting state legislative candidates to sign – a “Contract with the Middle Class,” pledging support for specific workers’ rights issues.

One recent signing was in Collinsville, Ill., east of St. Louis, the day after Labor Day. Similar ceremonies occurred in Peoria and the Quad Cities, with others scheduled for Chicago and elsewhere, state federation President Michael Carrigan said.

While the AFL-CIO nationally drafted a workers’ rights agenda more than a year ago and asked congressional candidates to sign on as a condition for statewide endorsements, a check of such “contracts” on Google shows the Illinois pact is apparently the first one drafted and offered to state legislative candidates.

It’s also a strike back at anti-worker GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, a rich investment executive who spent his first four-year term trying to wreck workers and unions.

The Contract with the Middle Class calls on candidates to oppose Rauner’s “special interest agenda and phony reforms” that strip workers of their rights, and to support efforts to create jobs, defend collective bargaining and ensure equal pay for women, affordable health care and retirement benefits.

And “it is about investing in American jobs by prioritizing the state to buy American-made products and services,” Carrigan added.

“It’s about fighting for access to affordable health care for taking care of people with pre-existing conditions. It’s about opposing efforts to force hard-working families into non-guaranteed retirement plans and about working to strengthen worker protections like compensation and access to medical care for injured workers.” Rauner vetoed an equal pay bill, the contract notes.

Five Democratic candidates, several of them incumbents, signed the contract at the ceremony in Collinsville, just days before early voting started for the November general election, on September 27. No Republicans signed.

“We don’t talk in terms of voting just on November 6 — that’s just the last day you can vote,” Carrigan said, reminding members that even if they’ll be out of town on Election Day, their votes still matter.

Since taking office, Carrigan said, Rauner waged an all-out assault on unions and their members, starting with his so-called economic “Turnaround Agenda.”

“It was just page after page of attacks on the middle-class, particularly if you had a union card in your pocket,” Carrigan said. “It’s been a full-fledged attack on unions. It’s all been about pushing down wages, pushing down benefits, destroying collective bargaining rights and going after state workers.”

“Whatever direction you turn on the compass, this guy fought organized labor. He talks about how he’s the governor for the middle-class, but nothing could be further from the truth. This guy is just an enemy of the middle-class,” Carrigan said of Rauner.

The most recent examples of Rauner’s antipathy toward unions are in prevailing wage levels set throughout the state for workers on public projects, the fed leader said.

“Craft by craft, county by county, it hasn’t been right,” he explained. “We had to go to court and get it straightened out last year. Well, guess what? This year, they posted them again and they’re wrong. There are omissions and there are tremendous errors,” which will cost building trades workers decent pay.

In Collinsville, Democratic State Reps. Monica Bristow of Godfrey, LaToya Greenwood of East St. Louis and Katie Stuart of Edwardsville and State Senate candidates Rachelle Aud Crowe and Christopher Belt signed the pledge.

“Anything that says ‘right-to-work,’ I’m against,” Belt said. “I’m pro-union, 100 percent, and we have to continue to fight. We’ve got to bring this thing home. I like the enthusiasm we’ve displayed thus far, but we can’t just sit back.”

Crowe, a Madison County prosecutor seeking an open seat, said her opponent, the mayor of Edwardsville, tried to push through Rauner’s local “right-to-work” scheme but was foiled when dozens of union supporters showed up to oppose it.

“I’m proud to be signing this contract, I’m proud to be a union supporter, and I have an opponent who does not share our values,” Crowe said. “It was his goal to repeal the prevailing wage law, to decrease wages and to slash workers compensation. He was not successful, but only because you all stepped up.”

“Middle-class families are the backbone of the Metro East economy, but workers’ rights have come under attack from Bruce Rauner and his special interest agenda that pads the profits of big businesses at the expense of our families,” Bristow said, the Alton Riverbender reported.

“While (Republican) Mike Babcock stands in support of Rauner’s reckless anti-worker agenda, I stand with working families and am fighting to protect fair wages, safety in the workplace and collective bargaining rights for all.”

Carl Green is a reporter for the St. Louis Labor Tribune. Mark Gruenberg contributed to this article.


Carl Green
Carl Green

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