Are minimum wage laws ‘job killers’?

Tom Suhrbur

Tom Suhrbur
Illinois Education
Association (retired)
Special to the Fox
Valley Labor News
Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018

In 2006, over a three-year period, the federal hourly minimum wage was increased from $5.15 to $7.25. It has been frozen at $7.25 since 2009. The federal minimum wage has not kept up with inflation. It reached a high point in inflation-adjusted dollars in 1968. If it had been adjusted to the Consumer Price Index, it would, instead, be $11.53 today.

U.S. productivity is a measure of business profitability. It has soared more than 250 percent since 1968. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “over the long run, productivity growth is the economic factor that has the potential to lead to improved living standards for the participants of an economy — in the form of higher consumption of goods and services. With growth in labor productivity, an economy is able to produce increasingly more goods and services for the same amount of work.”

The minimum wage today would be $19.33 if the 1968 hourly rate had kept up with U.S. productivity. In other words, most of the profits generated increased productivity since 1968 has gone to the top income groups; very little, if any, has trickled down to lower paid workers.

Conservatives have consistently opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage or to have it indexed to increase automatically with the cost of living. They argue raising the minimum wage is a “job killer.” They theorize that increases in the minimum wage discourage business hiring and result in higher unemployment. There is little evidence to support this claim.

The federal minimum wage applies mainly to companies involved in the production or sale of goods for interstate commerce. The law exempts certain jobs such as seasonal employees, domestic workers, agricultural workers, salesmen, administrators and restaurant staff working for tips. All but eight states have enacted minimum wage laws for exempt occupations. Six states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and New Hampshire — have no minimum wage law. Two others — Georgia and Wyoming — have a $5.15 minimum. Of the 42 states with minimum wage laws, 14 have adopted the $7.25 federal standard. Twenty-eight states have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate.

Do minimum wage laws “kill jobs?” The evidence hardly supports this conservative article of faith. Two of eight highest minimum wage states have unemployment rates under 3 percent; only one of the lowest minimum wage states is under 3 percent. In addition, only four of the highest states have unemployment rates over 4 percent while five states with low minimum wage rates are over 4 percent. It should also be noted Hawaii has the lowest unemployment in the nation, even though it has a $10.10 minimum wage. Like Hawaii, five of the next top 10 low unemployment states have laws that exceed $7.25 federal rate.

If there is no clear evidence minimum wage laws kill jobs, why are conservatives so opposed? Opposition to raising the minimum wage helps to keep low labor costs. Increasing the minimum wage raises the price of labor, not only those working at the minimum rate, but it also pressures business to raise wages for many others that are paid at a higher rate. Raising the minimum wage shifts some income to the working class. Freezing it has the opposite effect.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Position
Prior to launching his political career, Gov. Bruce Rauner supported the repeal of minimum wage laws. Early in his gubernatorial campaign, Rauner actually proposed Illinois should lower its $8.25 hourly minimum wage to the $7.25 federal standard. That proposal went over like a lead balloon. He quickly changed his tune, dropping his opposition for the Illinois law.

After the election, he announced support for a 25 cent hourly increase in the state minimum wage, but only if it included “business friendly reforms” (a.k.a. his anti-worker, anti-union Turnaround Agenda). Given the fact that Rauner’s taxable income for the past two years totaled $261 million, he probably figured he needed to project more sensitive public image with regard to low paid workers. What hypocrisy!

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Governor Bruce Rauner’s anti-worker agenda

Tom Suhrbur

Tom Suhrbur
Illinois Education
Association (retired)
Special to the Fox
Valley Labor News
Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018

Although he has been governor since 2015, Bruce Rauner has not been able to get his anti-union Turnaround Agenda enacted. Most of his proposals are aimed at the building trades workers and public employees — the most highly organized unions in the state. Here is a brief description of his Turnaround Agenda:

– Repeal the prevailing wage law: Lower wages for public construction projects undermining building trade unions
– “Reform” workers compensation: Lower benefits paid to workers injured at work — accidents often occur on construction sites
– Enact Open Shop (Right To Work) legislation: Undermine unions resulting in lower wages and benefits for all workers
– Cut unemployment benefits: Construction workers often face layoffs during the winter months
– Cut pension benefits for teachers and other public employees
– Privatize public services: Outsource public jobs to low wage private companies
– Restrict collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees
– Opposed raising the minimum wage

While his rhetoric is aimed at unions, the policies he is advocating would negatively impact non-union workers and their families. Weakening unions means lower wages and benefits for non-union employees.

Currently, Democrats hold large majorities in both houses of the state legislature, blocking his plan to undermine worker rights and protections. But that could change if he gets re-elected in November.

Whoever wins the race for governor will have control over redistricting of the state legislative maps following the 2020 census. A Rauner win could result in gerrymandered maps that favor Republican Party candidates and enhance his ability to get his proposals enacted. These maps will determine election districts for the next 10 years.

Voter turnout decides elections. In 2014, only 40.2 percent of the voting age population cast ballots in Illinois. (About 20 percent of Illinois voting age population is not even registered to vote.)

Republican Rauner won 50.27 percent of the ballots that year; he was elected governor by just 20.2 percent of the eligible voting age population. The fact that about 1/5th of those eligible to vote are not even registered, coupled with a low turnout of registered voters in 2014, enabled Rauner to win with barely 20 percent.

Labor unions need to educate their members about Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda and organize their members to vote in November. Union members and their families need to be registered to vote.

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Solar Spotlight

Future Energy Jobs Act

The Future Energy Jobs Act went into effect June 1, 2017. The IBEW is taking action by implementing solar training to prepare workers with jobs in the solar industry.

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

WARRENVILLE — On a dark and cold evening Jan. 29, more than 130 people packed Warrenville-based IBEW Local 701to talk and learn about the sun.

More specifically, they came to educate themselves on the status of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), a piece of energy legislation that followed nearly two years of negotiations between energy companies, consumer advocates and environmental groups.

Its focus is energy efficiency, renewable energy and job training. It began June 1, 2017.

“We are in unique position with this Act to take advantage of its economic benefits,” said Tim Milburn, with the Northwest Cook County Group of the Illinois Sierra Club. The Sierra Club, along with PowerForward DuPage sponsored the event.

Future Energy Jobs Act

Industry experts believe renewable energy is one of the fastest emerging energy technology fields. The Future Energy Jobs Act will help stimulate job creation throughout Illinois and when it does, the IBEW will be ready with trained workers. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force/Jennifer Green-Lanchoney

Those advantages include requiring the state’s two biggest electric utilities — Commonwealth Edison and Ameren — to dramatically expand their energy efficiency programs and reduce electricity waste, lowering Illinois power bills by billions of dollars through 2030.

For workers, FEJA saves and created thousands of clean energy jobs.

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Harry Ohde, executive director of Illinois IBEW Renewable Energy Fund, said he’s been waiting 20 years for solar, but it’s finally here. His job is to make sure the IBEW has a trained workforce to keep up with the demand of solar installation. With $30 million in funding to help with training, a plan is being implemented.

“These systems are made to last so they need to be installed properly,” Ohde said. “We need to have a workforce from Illinois to make sure people aren’t coming in from out-of-state to do these installations. We want an educated and qualified IBEW solar installer who will be employed by a union IBEW contractor.”

Future Energy Jobs Act

Chicago-based IBEW Local 134 has what its calling, a “traveling solar roadshow,” to promote renewable energy technologies throughout Illinois. Photo courtesy of IBEW Local 134

The $30 million in funding will be diverted among three job training programs: solar pipeline training, a craft apprentice program and a multi-cultural jobs program.

Ohde’s organization is in the process of developing a 40-hour renewable energy training curriculum, which will offer hands-on training and support.

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This summer, the Alsip-based Renewable Energy Training Field will invite IBEW members to its IBEW/NECA Technical Institute for a Train the Trainer program. With the information learned at this program, IBEW members can return to their Locals and begin implementing the same program.

Future Energy Jobs Act

An engaged audience at Warrenville-based IBEW Local 701 consisted of decision makers who would install solar panels on their private businesses, public facilities or municipalities. Several residential home owners indicated they were planning to install solar panels in the near future. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Solar training programs also will be implemented in junior high schools, high schools, community colleges and low-income communities. Train the Trainer Training program.

Ohde was proud to announce that six high schools in diverse neighborhoods throughout Illinois will start a potential per-apprenticeship program, either this year or in 2019, to be worked out with local IBEW unions.

“We need young people for the types of jobs in this industry. These jobs aren’t going to be for an old guy like me, that’s for damn sure,” Ohde said to laughter.

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Aurora-based Painters District Council 30 celebrates the holidays with its members

Fox Valley Labor News
Jennifer Rice/staff photographer
Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017

The inside of Painters District Council 30 was transformed into a winter wonderland by its apprentices. In the weeks leading up to its annual Breakfast with Santa event, apprentices paint the structures inside the school to look like the North Pole.

The Plascencia family took a photo with Santa Claus. Parents Juan and Danae brought their sons Max, Elias and daughter Leamsi.

Children were in for a real treat when they saw real, live reindeer at the Christmas event. With the help of Santa’s helpers, children got to touch and take a picture with the reindeer.

The day wouldn’t be complete without making reindeer food! Children could make their own bags by scooping oats with glitter into bags. On Christmas Eve, all they have to do is sprinkle the reindeer food on their lawn. The shiny glitter will sparkle in the moonlight and the smell of the oats will guide Rodolph to their home.

A mother helps her daughter, 4-year-old Nicole, write a Christmas letter to Santa Claus. When asked if she’s been naughty or nice, she stressed to her mother she’s been good! After the letters were written, they were dropped in a special mail box that goes directly to the North Pole.

Along with meeting Santa Claus and getting a picture taken with reindeer, children could also make several holiday crafts to take home. Several tables were set up as crafting stations. Here, two boys make necklaces to take home.

A mother helps her daughter put the finishing touches on her reindeer ornament.

Hillside-based IBEW Local 9 keeps a promise to help a community

Hillside-based IBEW Local 9

Members of Hillside-based IBEW Local 9, from left, IBEW Local 9 Financial Secretary Brian Lewis, Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County Director Keenan White, IBEW Local 9 Business Manager Bill Niesman, Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey, Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County staff member Steve Beranek and IBEW Local 9 Assistant Business Manager Kevin Schuster, along with children from the Boys and Girls Club of West Cook County, helped set up the turkey dinner donation site. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

BELLWOOD — Last year, Hillside-based IBEW Local 9 Business Manager Niesman made a promise to the Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County — his Local would be back again this year with turkey dinner donations for families.

“After [the club] told us how appreciative they were [last year], we knew we’d do it again,” Niesman explained. For Thanksgiving last year, the Local donated turkey dinners to deserving families. And this year, the Local kept its promise.

On Nov. 21, union members pulled up outside the club and carted in enough turkeys, plus all the fixings for a complete turkey dinner. “We tried to think of everything,” said Niesman. “We’ve got applesauce, pop, gravy and stuffing, pies, rolls and vegetables.” The union even provided aluminum pans to cook the turkey in. Food was purchased at Jewel-Osco and Aldi’s.

Hillside-based IBEW Local 9

Families not only took home a turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner, but all the trimmings, including: applesauce, pop, gravy and stuffing, pies, rolls, vegetables and an aluminum pan to cook the turkey in. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

The clubs Director Keenan White said IBEW Local 9 does so much for the kids. A complete turkey dinner at Thanksgiving is a way to help families in the community as well.

Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey stopped by the club to see how things were going. Harvey attended the club when he was a child. “When we moved here, I remember joining the following year — in ‘72 or ‘73,” Harvey recalled.

Many of the volunteers attended the Boys and Girls Club as children. Michael Somone, Assistant Vice President of Amalgamated Bank of Chicago and member of the Club’s Board of Directors facilitated joining IBEW Local 9 with the Club.

“This club does so much for the community. This is a wonderful way for labor to give back,” Somone explained.

Children at the club were eager to help sort and organize bags of food.

Hillside-based IBEW Local 9

Donated food sits in carts waiting to be brought up to the 2nd floor. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Hillside-based IBEW Local 9

Union members start organizing and lining up food on tables. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Hillside-based IBEW Local 9

Brian Lewis works on his handshake with a Club member. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Hillside-based IBEW Local 9

IBEW Local 9 Financial Secretary Brian Lewis, IBEW Local 9 Business Manager Bill Niesman, Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey and IBEW Local 9 Assistant Business Manager Kevin Schuster pose for a picture in front of the IBEW Local 9 trailer. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

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Governor’s race is heating up

Five Democratic gubernatorial candidates discuss taxes, Gov. Bruce Rauner and education during a recent Oct. 17 forum at Aurora University. Photo courtesy of Aurora University

Bernie Biernacki
Special to the Fox Valley Labor News
Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017

“I wasn’t thinking I was going to discuss climate change, but talking to educators — I should have known better,” joked Sen. Daniel Biss.

AURORA — Both Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan equally shared criticism at the Oct. 17 Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Forum, held at Aurora University.

Candidates Chris Kennedy, JB Pritzker, State Sen. Daniel Biss, Tio Hardiman and Bob Daiber fielded questions from Rick Piarson, a political reporter for both the Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio, which broadcast the event live.

All agreed Rauner’s past, current and future actions will most certainly be detrimental to the state and it’s residents — both union members and non-union.

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Kennedy was concerned the influx of big money is not the way to run any political campaign. Biss added, saying people must come out and vote down big spending.

State taxes were a big part of the evening. The current state flat tax rate is 4.95 percent. Candidates were asked about a graduated income tax, which would require a re-writing of the state’s constitution. Biss said he is worried the poor and middle class pay more, based on their income or lack thereof, than the rich.

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Kennedy worried a simple answer on restricting the tax rate can’t be done today if one doesn’t know what the needs will be for the next budget. “Remember, Rauner is a Libertarian,” Kennedy said. “We don’t know if we will even have a budget next year. It is unfair to ask [what the rate will be] now.”

Pritzker said before any decision on what the rate will be, “I have to view what the expenditure will be, what revenue will be available and what future growth will be. There is no one answer. What I can say is [Rauner] is the biggest wasteful spender we have ever had.”

While not saying what the average family’s tax rate should be, Hardiman said the rich of Illinois are not paying their fair share and should be paying a rate of between 7 percent and 10 percent. Daiber was the only candidate to say exactly what the rate should be — if a graduated tax is approved.

“For those making up to $160,000 the rate should be 1 percent,” Daiber said. “And those making more than $160,000, the rate should be 6 percent.”

Pritzker said Rauner doesn’t understand the necessity of investing, particularly with regards to education. “Spending for education is in reality a good investment for all in the state,” he explained. Pritzker said he would focus on universal preschool, building up all education from kindergarten through grade 12 and re-building the state’s public colleges and universities.

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Hardiman said one way to improve the lives of many in the state would be to educating state prisons, so when they are release they have a real chance of success.

Biss said Rauner’s actions (or lack of) has hurt both public and private higher education. “He helped the University of Wisconsin,” Biss said, referring to the increase of Illinois students going to that institution.

Prtzker said putting money into Illinois higher education keeps students here, not in other states.

Kennedy said rebuilding the state’s high education system and particularly research, will bring on a renaissance.

Both Kennedy and Biss believe combining units of government — local, county and statewide — would be a good financial growth measure.

As for Madigan, all agreed he has wielded much power and while working with him, they wouldn’t work for him. Kennedy said Madigan’s career as a property tax attorney, while not illegal, is has been a problem, as it hurt schools by leaving schools less in taxes. Biss added Madigan has been in power too long. Pritzker said he would seek indecently drawn legislative maps and leadership term limits.

Daiber said Madigan has accomplished a lot for the state. “He has kept it together, particularly with the current governor’s actions. “I take my hat off to him for that.”

Candidates discuss building a progressive Illinois

West Suburban Teachers Union Local 571

From left, Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, Sen. Laura Murphy and Sen. Linda Holmes were honored for their dedication to public education and working families. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

OAK BROOK — When gubernatorial candidates speak to a room full of educators, there’s no doubt they will be asked their opinion on pension reform and the recent passage of a tax credit program to overhaul the way Illinois funds schools.

But three Democratic candidates were surprised when educators also wanted to know their views on fracking, climate change and clean energy.

“I wasn’t thinking I was going to discuss climate change, but talking to educators — I should have known better,” joked Sen. Daniel Biss.

West Suburban Teachers Union Local 571

Educators from western Cook and DuPage Counties gather to hear from three Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Biss, along with Chris Kennedy and Rep. Juliana Stratton — JB Pritzker’s running mate and candidate for Lt. Gov., were invited guests to the West Suburban Teachers Union Local 571’s 12th Annual Legislative Breakfast.

Local 571 President Jane Russell believes it’s in the best interest of her members to meet and form relationships with local legislators. The annual breakfast encourages members to be aware of current political issues and candidates.

West Suburban Teachers Union Local 571

From left, Rep. Juliana Stratton — JB Pritzker’s running mate and candidate for Lt. Gov., Chris Kennedy and Sen. Daniel Biss were invited guests to the West Suburban Teachers Union Local 571’s 12th Annual Legislative Breakfast. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

All three candidates believe a progressive income tax for Illinois is the best way to fund schools.

Stratton laid out a plan she and Pritzker intend to follow: Make preschool universal, bring back vocational training to high schools and apprenticeships for young adults and invest in financial aid and MAP grants.

West Suburban Teachers Union Local 571

West Suburban Teachers Union Local 571 President Jane Russell is dedicated to educating her members on political issues and candidates. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

“We are ready to increase public funding for education across the board . . . by passing a progressive income tax in Illinois. Those who can afford to pay more should do so,” she explained.

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Kennedy would like to go a step further and eliminate the property tax system, which would eliminate a conflict of interest in both parties where political leaders are property tax appeals lawyers.

“They’re making money on the property tax system. They’re not going to let us switch to an income tax system — they have a conflict of interest and it’s big money,” Kennedy explained.

With one of the most regressive tax codes in the country, Biss would like to start with repealing the flat tax provision in Illinois’ Constitution and move on to a progressive income tax.

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He also pointed out the issues of school funding was an issue prior to current GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner taking office. As he put it, “things weren’t great in Illinois,” reminding guest two Democratic governors prior to Rauner were imprisoned.

“We have to defeat this horrible governor, but if we only defeat him and go back to whatever we had before Rauner — then shame on us. We need to understand what it was in Springfield, on both sides of the aisle, that stopped us from enacting the progressive policies that our state needs.”

Along with the three gubernatorial candidates, three legislators, Sen. Linda Holmes, Sen. Laura Murphy, and Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, were honored for their dedication and support of public education, labor unions and working families.

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As a member of the Pension Conference Committee Holmes has stayed committed to defending pension legislation, being the one dissenting vote on SB1.

She held fast to Illinois’ Constitution, which indicated pensions shall not be diminish. “You can’t change the terms of the contract once it’s in place. To me that seemed really, really obvious. Why it wasn’t obvious to everyone else [on the committee], I don’t know,” Holmes explained.

SB1 eventually made it’s way to the Illinois Supreme Court, where it unanimously ruled SB 1, unconstitutional.

“The morning I heard that, I really wanted to pour champagne over my cornflakes, I was so excited,” she said to laughs.

Looking ahead, Holmes and Welch are looking at charter schools. Both legislators are moving forward with HB 768, which creates a charter school application process where only locally elected school boards and parents could decide if a charter school is good for their community.

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Welch also is fighting to keep the recently passed tax credit program to five years. “[Republicans] are going to try and make it go even further to where they get vouchers in the public school systems. If that happens, that’s going to destroy the public school systems. We need to be putting more money into our public schools and not taking out money,” he said.

Murphy also voted against the school voucher bill. She knows Rauner’s agenda is to eliminate unions and the pension members have earned. She’s going to continue fighting for public education, jobs, and to close corporate loopholes. “That’s how we make the middle class successful,” Murphy added.

Chris Kennedy honored for his dedication to Labor

Chris Kennedy was proud to receive his award as Man of the Year for his dedication as president of the Merchandise Mart, as well as his leadership involving the development of Wolf Point. With both properties, Kennedy was able to secure thousands of construction and other jobs for Illinois workers. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

ADDISON — When the Italian American Labor Council of Greater Chicago makes the decision to honor an individual as its Man of the Year, it looks for someone who has a lasting effect on the community.

“This person is chosen for their leadership and contributions to improving the well-being of the American worker,” explained IALC President Anthony Guida. This year, honoree Chris Kennedy fit the bill perfectly. He was honored Oct. 14 at a dinner dance in Addison.

During his 12 years as president of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, Kennedy was able to work with governmental agencies, labor groups and independent small businesses to bring companies and good jobs back to Illinois.

Italian American Labor Council of Greater Chicago

Italian American Labor Council of Greater Chicago President Anthony Guida. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

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As the largest commercial building in the world, the Mart spans two city blocks, sits at 4.2 million square feet and is one of the largest LEED-certified buildings in the world.

While leading Chicago’s Wolf Point development, Kennedy was able to bring in 2,000 construction jobs and other permanent jobs to Illinois.

Around Labor Day every year, Guida recalled the Merchandise Mart would notify the unions and ask that they bring their union hall flags to the Mart so they could be displayed in the lobby.

“That’s something I’ll never forget. That’s one of the reasons we asked you to come — because of your strong dedication to Labor,” Guida added.

Kennedy thanked the 240 attendees at the event who were there to honor him, including several individuals he worked with at the Merchandise Mart. “You made living in Chicago such a pleasure,” he told them.

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Drawing on his Immigrant ties, Kennedy said our country was a pioneer in a new form of government — a multi-cultural Democracy, which is currently under attack, from outside and inside forces.

“We cannot allow the celebration of our cultural heritage to be attacked and be diminished,” he explained.

The Irish and Italians created unions in America, as well as supported them with laws they passed. “We built the model Democratic Party to work hand in glove with Labor. Democrats and Labor, working together is who we are in our country, when we are at our best in America,” Kennedy said to applause.

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Non-union workers prompts labor rally at Menards

Fox Valley Building Trades rally

An Oct. 12 labor rally by the Fox Valley Building and Construction Trades Council raised awareness that out-of-state workers are working inside the Plano Menards Distribution Center on a facility that was to be built by organized labor or local contractors. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

PLANO — After two weeks protesting on its own, Elgin-based Laborers Local 582 teamed with Aurora-based Iron Workers Local 393 and called for an Oct. 12 labor protest against work being done at the Plano Menards Distribution Center.

In early September, work began inside the Menards compound on the construction of a facility to treat pressurized lumber — which was to be built by organized labor or local contractors.

“It’s being done by neither,” explained Iron Workers Local 393 Business Manager Dirk Enger, who was at the labor protest.

Fox Valley Building Trades rally

Affiliates from the Fox Valley Building and Construction Trades Council protest Oct. 12 at the Plano Menards Distribution Center where it is using out-of-state workers to construct a building on the Menards compound. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

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Enger attended previous Plano City Council meetings where a Menards representative indicated work would be done by “Fox Valley construction companies.”

“It’s a bad move. Our biggest issues is, the people who are in there doing the concrete right now are driving into work with vehicles with Texas and Missouri plates. They are not local people. The trust the community had with Menards has been lost,” Enger said.

Local, signatory contractors submitted bids, only to find Menards had already awarded the contact to Michigan-based IDH Concrete for 15,000 cubic yards of concrete.

Fox Valley Building Trades rally

Concrete is being hauled onto the property in trucks like the one pictured above. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Laborers Local 582 Business Manager Marty Dwyer said he talked with the project manager regarding the bids. “When I questioned why he was taking bids if the project had already been awarded, he said, “we’re in a hurry to get the job done.”

Fox Valley Building Trades rally

Aurora-based IBEW Local 461 debuted its newest Scabby the Rat, which sports a white button shirt, tie and vest. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

The new, pressurized lumber plant will require a non-drinking water well. During city meetings, a Menards representative indicated the plan is to sink a well to a low aquifer, which will not affect surrounding, deeper farm wells. That has Plano residents and farmers concerned for their water.

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“They’re worried about where Menards is going to dump the treated water, because there is waste treatment in that,” said Enger. “Menards said the water is going to be in holding cells, but there’s nothing on the prints that show holding cells. We’re concerned they’re just going to dump it on the ground, where it will make its way to the creeks, and then it’s an environmental issue.”

The Menards representative assured Plano officials no dumping would occur in storm or sewer pipes, which flow into the Fox River and into the water aquifer, which supplies Plano and other neighboring communities drinking water.

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Family tale weaves union activism across generations

Mike_Matejka

Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News

Book review

Where does the inspiration come to devote one’s life and energy to improving the human condition? What makes a person willing to sacrifice their own safety and well-being to organize a union?

A compelling look across three generations is featured in A Great Vision: a Militant Family’s Journey through the 20th Century by Richard March.

Traveling from an Adriatic Sea island and Lithuanian Jewish ghettos to urban America, this book comes full circle across three generations.

The book’s central characters are Herbert and Jane Marsh, two young people radicalized by the 1930s Depression. Many jobless and angry youth gravitated to the Communist Party; the two met at a Young Communist League meeting in Chicago in 1932 and were soon married.

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Organizing industrial workers was the 1930s’ epic tale, including the meat packing industry. Herbert and Jane were central figures in organizing Chicago’s stockyards into the United Packinghouse Workers. In previous years, the packers had played white against African-American workers.

Through their commitment to human rights, the March family won the confidence of the workers, with Herb speaking on street corners to rally strikes and short-term walk-outs to prove worker power. More than once, assassination attempts almost took Herb’s life.

After World War II, anti-communism enveloped the U.S. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act required union officers to swear non-allegiance to communist groups. Herb March refused and lost his union job.

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The family moved to Los Angeles, where Herb joined the Sheet Metal Workers’ apprenticeship school and eventually went to night school to complete a law degree, finishing his career as a labor lawyer.

Jane became active in the early 1960s anti-nuclear weapon “Ban the Bomb” movement. This led the author, Richard March, to involvement in Civil Rights, anti-war and United Farm Worker support efforts.

Richard eventually returned to his roots; having learned Croatian from his immigrant mother and grand-mother, he became an anthropologist with a specialty in eastern European languages and culture.

Most touching in this book is the way the generations connect. Jane’s mother, Maria Grbac, grew up on the Adriatic island of Losinj, as Mussolini’s Italy and Croatans contested for control.

The Grbac’s refused to speak Italian and their home became a resistance center. Jane’s brothers fatally went to the Soviet Union in the 1930s to join the “workers’ paradise” and disappeared in Stalin’s 1930s purges.

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Herb’s Jewish family immigrated to New York City, where they were immersed in garment strikes and radical politics.

This book echoes with the commitment needed to build a union and sadly reflects how the labor movement sometimes turned on its own most ardent supporters. Urban life in New York and Chicago neighborhoods echoes through tenements and flats, through to the 1960s promised land in California.

It’s an engaging read because it is a real-life story of families coping with economic and political dislocation, not only surviving, but passing on values of caring and solidarity.