President's Report

Summer 2016

Throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to speak at several national conventions that convened here in Chicago.

Throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to speak at several national conventions that convened here in Chicago. I spoke to the Utility Workers of America, SMART, LiUNA, International Union of Elevator Constructors, and IAMAW. The theme throughout all these speeches was Labor brings us all together, with a core mission of protecting the working class. However, today in Chicago and across Illinois and the United States, our unity as a movement is being tested like never before.

In Illinois, over 30 percent of our union brothers and sisters voted for now-Governor Bruce Rauner. However, as we have seen since he took office in January 2015, Governor Rauner does not care about the destruction he leaves in his path as he tries to steamroll through his agenda. He wants workers to give back the gains they have made at the bargaining table, which include lowering the minimum wage back to the federal level of $7.25, weakening prevailing wage laws and implementing so-called Right-to-Work laws.

Going into the 2014 election, we knew what gubernatorial-candidate Rauner’s destructive agenda was all about. So why did so many union members vote for him? They saw him as the way out. They felt like their voices were not being heard, so they bought into the hype a new governor would bring.

As President of the CFL, I speak on behalf of the unions who represent teachers, firefighters, nurses and doctors, construction workers, tradesmen and women, factory and waste management workers, grocery store clerks, packinghouse workers, airline workers, hotel and casino workers, and healthcare workers, to name a few. So what are union members concerned about? It’s simple. They are concerned about the complete lack of respect for dignity in the workplace and workplace democracy.

Consider this quote, “Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor… those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized… do a disservice to the cause of democracy.” Former President John F. Kennedy said these words in 1960 to defend working people across the country. He knew that injustices in the workplace led to weaker communities. A person’s inability to meaningfully provide for his or her family would cripple the nation. Or what about this one, “It’s the government’s job to assist workers in forming a union.” That language was taken directly from the National Labor Relations Act written in 1935. It is in there because the law recognized the imbalance of power that exists between employer and employee. These aren’t outdated concepts, and I believe these two concepts together are more important than ever in today’s culture.

Some people out there want to say unions are a relic of the Industrial Age and that unions are outdated. We must always remember that unions dedicate themselves to maintaining the middle class. We do this by fighting for a 40-hour work week and higher wages with comprehensive benefit plans. We do this by pushing for regulations that keep our workplaces safe. We do this by fighting to establish and maintain a strong social security system. Union membership creates a pathway to the middle class, a middle class that this country needs to survive.

We are in the fight of our lives, and we all need to work together to raise up our members. I hope you will all join me to ensure their dreams for a better future.