President's Report
President's Report

President's Report — Issue 2 2018

The labor movement can learn a great deal from the teachers in West Virginia. In February, thousands of teachers across the state walked out of the classrooms and onto the picket line to fight for better wages and benefits. Pay for teachers in West Virginia ranked 48th, with an average teacher earning $45,622 a year, well below the national average of $58,353. They banded together in solidarity and waited for the state to respond. They were offered a four percent raise, but together the teachers said it isn’t enough, and they stood their ground. Finally, after a historic nine days on strike, the state agreed to the five percent raise the teachers demanded.

What we learn from this fight is the power we have when we stick together. There is strength in numbers, and we can never let anyone take that away from us.

In 2017, members of Automobile Mechanics Local 701, led by CFL Finance Committee member Sam Cicinelli, walked off the job for nearly seven weeks to win a fair contract. They accepted the fourth offer from the dealers’ association that finally addressed several key issues brought forth by Local 701. During the strike, more than 70 individual dealerships broke from the dealers’ association and settled their own interim agreements directly with the union. Throughout the strike, the members of Local 701 received a tremendous outpouring of support from area residents and union members near and far. Many supporters donated to the union’s health care fund, provided food and water, and even offered words of encouragement to the strikers.

What we learned from this strike is that when labor sticks together, labor wins. When the members of Local 701 needed the support of the movement, the movement was there for them.

In March, we voted in the primary election to nominate candidates for the November ballot. (Read more on page 10.) During the primary, organized labor sought to replace two Cook County Commissioners who turned their backs on us when they voted to repeal the Cook County soda tax: Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st District) and Commissioner John Fritchey (12th District). Brandon Johnson, an organizer with Chicago Teachers Union, ran against Boykin, and Bridget Degnen ran against Fritchey. Both Johnson and Degnen had little name recognition going into these races, but that wasn’t going to stop us from getting them across the goal line. Through a coordinated effort with Working America and a coalition of our affiliated unions, we boosted Johnson and Degnen to wins in their respective races. Johnson beat out Boykin by less than 400 votes; Degnen defeated Fritchey by a comfortable 10-point margin.

What we learned from this primary is that when we stick together, we win.

I understand that it is not always feasible to think the labor movement will come together around every issue. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, when things are at their worst, that’s when labor is at its best. When we stay together, we win. It’s that simple.

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