The hobo’s journey through American literature

mike_matejka

Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News
Book review
Jan. 5, 2017

Boxcar Politics: The Hobo in U.S. Culture and Literature, 1869-1956
By John Lennon
ISBN 978-1-62534-120-4

Imagine the word “hobo.” What comes to mind? Red Skelton playing “Freddie the Freeloader?” Maybe a tattered figure, a red kerchief tied to a stick, wandering down the rails?

Some like to say a “hobo traveled to work, a tramp traveled to dream and a bum traveled to drink.” In reality, from the Civil War to World War II, there was an itinerant work force available for construction, railroading, mining and agricultural jobs.

These usually short-term job opportunities meant ‘boes were welcome when labor scarce, shunned when the job ended.

The hobo was well-known in American life during the railroad’s peak. In a sense, they were a creation of the railroad, particularly in the early construction years when large crews were needed.

IBEW Local 150

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John Lennon in Boxcar Politics examines the hobo in popular culture, particularly in literature and film. He divides the rail riders into adventure seekers, traveling workers and political symbols of a economically and racially-divided nation.

In the adventure category, two figures are analyzed, both who used their traveling experience to craft a story. Jack London, famed western novelist, not only wrote Call of the Wild, but also The Road (1907). London took to the rails not searching work, but rather to prove his own skills in an outcast world. The shadow world of the boxcar appealed to London, creating his own law, at least until the jail cell door slammed shut.

Sixty years later, another young American, Jack Kerouac, went On the Road (1957), this time not seeking adventure, but a pre-automotive lost America. Like London, Lennon sees Kerouac as an individualist, viewing hoboes as a free nation’s hero.

For most freight train riders, it wasn’t wanderlust, but hunger and dead-end jobs that led them to the train yard. Jim Tully’s Beggars for Life (1924), told his own tale, an abandoned Ohio boy who hoped for a better life, only to find misery and hard-traveling. Eventually, Tully wrote five books about the underside of American life.

The political hobo is the recurring figure in John Dos Passos’ trilogy U.S.A. (1930-36). Fainy “Mac” McCreary hits the road in the 1890s from necessity, and is radicalized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a direct action union, which organized lumber jacks, agricultural workers and immigrants. As American radical politics crashes after World War I, “Mac” eventually travels south to support the Mexican Revolution, opens a bookstore and politically pontificates from a bar stool.

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A different political traveler were the Scottsboro defendants, impoverished African-Americans charged with raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. They became a cause celebrate for the Communist Party, transforming their image and saving them from a lynching.

The hobo also appeared in film. In the Depression 1930s, thousands took to the rails, particularly unemployed youth. In its prime era of gangster films, Warner Brothers produced Wild Boys on the Road (1933), in which an inter-racial, male and female traveling crew bond through their misery, creating their own law when a rail worker rapes a female fellow traveler, meting out their own justice to the offender.

Lennon is deep into literary theory, but the writer makes it accessible.

Hoboes lived on the society’s margin, in and out of the law and traditional home-bound life. They were a constant reminder of capitalism’s precarious nature, where one could have a job and then be unemployed the next week.

Real life stories of itinerant workers and dreamers surfaced in magazine articles, books and film, sometimes as stereotypes, occasionally with sympathy. Lennon’s book reminds us how pervasive these figures were in American life, surfacing not only to beg at the backdoor or work the fruit harvest, but also in the latest literary journal.

RENEW-ing a future for others

RENEW Local 701

RENEW Local 701 members participated in its first ever holiday food drive, collecting 550 pounds of food and donating it to Naperville’s Loaves & Fishes food pantry, which serves DuPage County residents. In a bit of friendly competition among the apprenticeship classes, first year apprentices got bragging rights for donating the most pounds of food. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

Donations can be mailed to:
Loaves and Fishes
1871 High Grove Lane
Naperville, IL 60540
Phone: 630-355-3663

To learn more or make an on-line donation, visit Loaves and Fishes

NAPERVILLE — Members of IBEW Local 701’s RENEW (Reach out and Engage Next-gen Electrical Workers) ended 2016 with a gesture that will leave an impact on the DuPage County community.

For two months during the holidays, RENEW members collected food and various household items like diapers, for a friendly competition among the apprentices.

RENEW Local 701

A Loaves & Fishes volunteer, left, helps three IBEW Local 701 RENEW members unload 550 pounds of food and household items Dec. 28 donated by the group during its first ever food drive. First year apprentices won a friendly competition, donating the most food of all the classes. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

“We challenged the apprentices in our five-year program to see which class could donate the most food,” explained Journeyman Jonathan Johansen who heads the RENEW chapter at Local 701. To keep things fair, donated food was weighed. In the end, first year apprentices earned the bragging rights, donating nearly half of the 550 pounds of food collected. They also collected $80.

“RENEW is all about getting the younger members involved and helping the community. Our first year apprentices they really showed us,” Johansen said with a smile.

The mission of IBEW’s RENEW program is to inspire the next generation of IBEW workers to become active in their local union. The program pushes younger members to focus on issues important to them, provide education about the IBEW and the labor movement, and foster relationships with members and local union leadership.

At their last day of collection in December, RENEW members realized they achieved their goal of a successful food drive, but didn’t know where to donate the items. PowerForward DuPage Executive Director Karyn Charvat helped out by suggesting Loaves & Fishes, which provides food and client resources to DuPage County residents.

RENEW Local 701

Loaves & Fishes Communications and Event Manager Michelle Iskowitz gives Local 701 RENEW members Jonathan Johansen, Thomas Imburgia and Tyler Drew a tour of the facility, allowing them to see first hand how their donations helps the community. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Johansen, along with fellow journeyman Thomas Imburgia, second year apprentice Tyler Drew and Charvat, delivered the food, Dec. 28.

Loaves & Fishes Communications and Event Manager Michelle Iskowitz gave them a tour and explained the significance of their donation.

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“A woman who comes here said if it wasn’t for this place, her family would be homeless. With no health insurance, three children and a husband awaiting a liver transplant, all their money goes towards rent,” Iskowitz explained. “Your donation is helping her and hundreds others like her. Having a meal provides such normalcy for a family,” she added.

Motivated by her comments, the RENEW members committed to do more. “With our first year doing this, we didn’t know what to expect. Now we have a goal to double what we donated this year,” Johansen said.

‘Every child deserves a little Christmas!’

kane_county_toys_for_tots

kane_county_toys_for_tots

Kane County Toys for Tots used Pipefitter Local 597 training center in Aurora as this year’s warehouse and distribution site. This holiday season, more than 28,000 toys were donated to nearly 40 organizations that request toys and found loving homes with Kane County children. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

Donations can be mailed to:
Toys for Tots
1921 W. Wilson St. #129
Batavia, IL 60510

To learn more or make an on-line donation, visit Kane County Toys for Tots

AURORA — More than anybody, Patrick Kackert understands what it means to rely on the generosity of others. As the Kane County Toys for Tots Coordinator, he is on the hunt every year for donated warehouse space to house and organize the almost 28,000 toys donated for Kane County Toys for Tots. A best case scenario would put his team in a warehouse mid-October.

But after hearing, “no, sorry,” 30 times, Kackert, a Marine reservist, was left wondering what he was going to do. That’s when fate put him together with organized labor. Specifically, Scott Roscoe, president of the Fox Valley Building and Construction Trades Council and a business representative for Pipefitters Local 597.

After Roscoe, a Marine, Kackert, and mutual friend Brian Dolan initially looked at a spot that was too small, Roscoe suggested space at Pipefitters Local 597 Training Center on Farnsworth Avenue in Aurora. Used for training students in welding and HVAC, the school is usually bustling with students, but it was temporarily empty so the floor could be redone and refinished. For Kackert, the timing couldn’t have been better.

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Volunteer Doris Bolin works on filling an order for Elgin’s Community Crisis Center, which is one of Kane County Toys for Tots biggest clients. This holiday season, it sent the center nearly 6,000 toys. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

“I told [Scott], ‘this is perfect. It’s exactly what we needed.’ We couldn’t do this without the space, and it was all donated by the pipefitters,” Kackert said. He was used to last year’s 35,000 square-foot facility, but it was a blessing to find a 15,000 square-foot facility at the last minute.

The final person to sign on was 597 Training Director John Leen, who was enthusiastic about the opportunity to help Toys for Tots.

Come next year, Kackert will be on the hunt again. He understands the pipefitter’s training facility will probably be bustling with students and not available, but every year brings additional connections, and more opportunities.

kane_county_toys_for_tots

Volunteers at the warehouse facility help unload trucks that are transporting boxes of toys, sort toys and fill orders for organizations. Organizations are responsible for picking up toys. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

In the mean time, volunteers spent the week of Dec. 12 filling orders for Kane County Toys for Tots nearly 40 organizations that request toys.

Kackert’s passion extends to his family. Not only does his wife, Toni, help, so does Kackert’s 79-year-old father George, a Marine.

Beyond family, volunteers at the warehouse facility help unload trucks that are transporting boxes of toys, sort toys and fill orders for organizations. Organizations are responsible for picking up toys.

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After orders were filled, toys are packed in blue bags, indicating they are ready for pick up. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Volunteer Doris Bolin spent hours working on filling an order for Elgin’s Community Crisis Center, which is one of Kane County Toys for Tots biggest clients. The center provides comprehensive services to individuals and families in crisis due to domestic violence, sexual assault, or economic/ financial difficulties.

“It takes a lot longer than you actually think,” she said regarding ‘shopping’ for toys to fill orders. Her goal was to pick out toys for 250 boys, aged 10 to 14 — the age group that receives the least amount of donated toys.

kane_county_toys_for_tots

Not every toy makes it to a child. There was a spot under the Christmas tree by the front door where Booger Balls, Chunky Crunch and a rifle scope lay. “Sometimes we get things that have toilet humor, but the rifle scope — I don’t know what someone was thinking,” Warehouse Manager Dorothy Holland said with a laugh. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Monetary donations to the Kane County Toys for Tots organization goes to purchase toys specific to the 10- to 14-year-old age group.

The warehouse is divided down the middle: boy toys on one side, girl toys on the other. If you ever forget, each side it’s clearly visible with the stark contract of pink and blue colors. Bolin noticed Barbies were popular for the girls, and Star Wars toys for the boys.

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Warehouse Manager Dorothy Holland reminds volunteers to not always think gender-specific. “I tell them to think about including Lego kits and science toys for girls,” Holland said.

Not every toy makes it to a child. There was a spot under the Christmas tree by the front door where Booger Balls, Chunky Crunch and a rifle scope lay. “Sometimes we get things that have toilet humor, but the rifle scope — I don’t know what someone was thinking,” she said with a laugh.

There’s also a spot for ‘misfit toys,’ which are used, torn or unusual donations, like Tattoo Art, and a box of 4-inch Kewpie dolls, each dressed as a character of the Wizard of Oz with a $99 price tag.

“It’s really a judgement call on these items whether or not to give this to a child, but we’re not giving away VHS tapes,” Holland said.

Unions provide families the means for a holiday meal

The Fox Valley United Way’s Holiday Assistance program gets help from organized labor with donations.

The Fox Valley United Way’s Holiday Assistance program gets help from organized labor with donations. From left, Laborers’ Local 582 Representative Jeff Frost, Fox Valley Building and Construction Trades Council President Scott Roscoe, North Central Illinois Labor Council Representative Jeff Carr, Pipefitters Local 597 Business Representative Adam Swan, UA Local 130 Business Agent Charlie Seibert, FVUW Director of Community Engagement Denise Blettner, FVUW Director of Operations Deborah Collins-Rudel, ADC 1 Business Agent Ruben Collazo, Laborers Local 582 Representative Jose Martinez, PDC 30 Business Manager/Secretary-Treasurer Ryan Anderson, Finishing Solutions Network Representative Brian Dahl, Roofers Local 11 Business Agent Larry Gnat and SMART Local 265 Business Representative John Hopp. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

AURORA — Every year, when the holidays approach, the Fox Valley United Way (FVUW) sees organized labor as its very own secret Santa.

It’s because the Fox Valley Building Trades, along with the North Central Illinois Labor Council, joined forces and made monetary donations to the FVUW’s Holiday Assistance program, which provides toys, clothing and gift cards for grocery purchases to families who do not have the financial means to provide gifts to their children.

Money donated by the unions goes towards purchasing food gift cards, which clients can use to buy a holiday meal.

The Fox Valley United Way’s Holiday Assistance program gets help from organized labor with donations.

Bags of toys and bikes await pickup as part of the Fox Valley United Way’s Holiday Assistance. Fox Valley Labor News file photos

“We can’t express enough gratitude to the building trades. When you see the faces of these mothers, it gives you an amazing feeling to know that what they’re doing is very much appreciated by many in the community,” said FVUW Director of Operations Deborah Collins-Rudel.

Bins of donated hats, scarves and mittens, right, are also given to children. Fox Valley Labor News file photos

Bins of donated hats, scarves and mittens, right, are also given to children. Fox Valley Labor News file photos

Representatives of the building trades visited the FVUW Dec. 2, where they presented Collins-Rudel with $2,350 in donations, and 10 $50 Jewel-Osco gift cards. A good chunk of the donated money comes from the Fox Valley Building and Construction Trades Council annual golf outing, the rest from union contributions.

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Christmas is more than just the gifts under the tree, it’s about being together as a family. “It’s a relief these families don’t have to worry if they will have a Christmas dinner — they will. Part of the Christmas celebration is about the meal,” Collins-Rudel said.

Fox Valley Building and Construction Trades Council President Scott Roscoe, who is a past FVUW board member, said the building trades have been involved with the Holiday Assistance program for many years.
“I can’t say enough about what [the staff] does at United Way. They’ve done great things in the community,” Roscoe said.

So far, the FVUW is helping 133 needy families with 313 children.

Giving back to the community

Giving back to the community

Braving plummeting temperatures and stiff winds Nov. 19, the Lake County Building and Construction Trades Council and the Lake County Contractors Association provided complete turkey dinners to 100 deserving families in Lake County as part of their Giving Back to the Community event. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

GRAYSLAKE — For the second time this year, union members and signatory contractors in Lake County joined forces to give back to their communities.

Braving the plummeting temperatures and stiff winds Nov. 19, the Lake County Building and Construction Trades Council, the Lake County Contractors Association and the Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO provided complete turkey dinners to 100 deserving families in Lake County.

“We’re going to continue to build on our efforts, and reach out to families in need,” explained Lake County Contractors Association Executive Vice President Tim Marabella.

Giving back to the community

The parking lot of the Lake County Housing Authority became a one-stop Thanksgiving dinner shopping spot Nov. 19 when the Lake County Building Trades and the Lake County Contractors Association gave back to their communities by giving away turkeys and all the trimmings for a complete Thanksgiving day dinner. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

“People don’t understand the aspect of what unions give back to the community. They see us doing construction, but they aren’t aware of all the things we do behind the scenes to help our communities,” he added.

The Lake County Housing Authority was responsible for contacting families throughout Lake County and informing them of the opportunity to receive a turkey dinner. When distribution started at 10 a.m., there were 30 people deep at the check-in table.

For Easter earlier this year, both organizations, along with the Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, provided complete ham dinners for 100 families.

Family members Sue and Jamie Boller from Boller Construction in Waukegan welcomed residents and offered them doughnuts and coffee, which was perfect to ward off the cold weather. Husband Bob Boller worked inside the delivery truck, organizing food items.

Giving back to the community

A banner lines US Highway 45 in front of the Lake County Housing Authority where union members volunteered Nov. 19 by giving way complete turkey dinners to deserving Lake County families. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

“We made sure the families grabbed some doughnuts and coffee before they got their turkey so we didn’t have extra. We absolutely don’t need them,” Marabella joked.

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Patrick Statter, president of the Northeastern Illinois Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and UFCW 881 recorder was instrumental in purchasing the turkeys and side dishes from Mariano’s of Lake Zurich.

Lake County Building Trades President Pete Olson said the goal of both organizations was to show a presence with their community, “which we achieved,” Olson said.

Turkey dinners that were not picked up did not go to waste. Union members found deserving organizations that welcomed the dinners.

IBEW Local 9 helps families with Thanksgiving dinners

Hillside’s IBEW Local 9 and Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County

Members of Hillside’s IBEW Local 9, including Bill Niesman, Joe Notaro, Eric Bergdolld, Phil Dote and Kevin Schuster, along with staff and children from the Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County, helped set up the Nov. 22 turkey dinner donation site. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

BELLWOOD — Board member Frank Sangiacomo summed up the evening after walking into the gym of the Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County by saying, “this is beautiful!” Sangiacomo is also an alum of the same Boys & Girls Club.

What was beautiful was the sight of enough turkeys and all the trimmings for a yummy Thanksgiving meal — enough to feed 150 people, all made possible though the collective effort of Hillside’s IBEW Local 9 membership.

At its last two union meetings, members donated money, which was used to purchase turkeys, gravy, vegetables, yams, rolls, pies, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pop. The clubs Director Keenan White said both organizations have been talking on how they could partner together in ways to help the community and the children it serves. “Next thing you know, it turns into donating turkeys for Thanksgiving,” White said.

Hillside’s IBEW Local 9 and Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County

Before families arrived, all the food was sorted and bagged for convenience. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Food was pre-ordered, but pick-up, delivery and distribution was all done Nov. 22 by the union.

Club President Steve Beranek said the club has produced to many wonderful people over the years, with life skills they learned at the club. “I want to see that continue, and that’s what we want to do,” Beranek explained.

Hillside’s IBEW Local 9 and Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County

The Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County Director Keenan White makes sure every bag given to families has the same items in them. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Children at the club were eager to help by sorting and organizing bags of food. The club notified families, and pick up was from 4:30 to 8 p.m.

With money saved by not having to purchase a Thanksgiving dinner, families can now focus on the upcoming holiday season with a little more money in their pocket.

Hillside’s IBEW Local 9 and Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County

Children at the club were eager to help by sorting and organizing bags of food. The club notified families, and pick up was from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Hillside’s IBEW Local 9 and Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County

Hillside’s IBEW Local 9 made this Thanksgiving extra special for 50 families of the Boys & Girls Club of West Cook County. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

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Volunteering is good for the soul

An Aurora homeowner receives new roof

An Aurora homeowner received a blessing from organized labor when several building trades volunteered their time and skills over three days to replace an old, leaky roof that was costing the homeowner higher insurance premiums. Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia contacted the Carpenters and Laborers union in Lisle and Elgin for help. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

You can view members of the Fox Valley Building Trades doing work on the roof by going to the Fox Valley Labor News YouTube channel

AURORA — As Aurora’s Veterans Day parade was winding its way through Aurora Nov. 11, members from several labor unions were taking advantage of the sunny, unseasonably warm day, ripping shingles off a roof that was in long need of repair.

The home, in the 600 block of Adams Street, is owned by a low and fixed income senior who was caught in a cycle of paying higher insurance premium because her roof leaked. Unfortunately, the higher monthly insurance bill made it impossible to save money for the repair needed to be done.

Early this year, repairs were done made on her home through Rebuilding Together Aurora, but after a second request was made, help couldn’t be given.

An Aurora homeowner receives new roof

An Aurora senior in need received a new roof with help from Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia and members from Carpenters Local 916, 1307 and Laborers Local 582. Photo courtesy of Laborers Local 582.

That’s when Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia stepped in. She represents the 83rd Representative District, which includes Aurora, Montgomery and North Aurora.

She knew the best and fastest way to get the job done was with organized labor, so she reached out to the carpenters for help.
“Many people don’t need a hand out — they just need a hand, and that’s what the unions were able to do for this homeowner,” Chapa LaVia explained.

Members of Elgin’s Laborers Local 582, and Lisle’s Carpenters Local 916 spent two days ripping off layers of old singles, repairing holes and getting the roof ready for the final day, when members from Lisle’s Carpenters Local 1307 shingled the 2,800-square foot roof.

An Aurora homeowner receives new roof

Union members volunteer their time for three days, tearing off numerous layers of shingles, doing roof repairs and re-shingling her roof. Jennifer Rice/staff photography

“When Linda contacted us to volunteer, we said, ‘of course,’” explained Local 916 Business Representative Brian Hooker. This summer, his members volunteered with Rebuilding Together Aurora working on homes for the community, so they knew what needed to be done.

Chapa LaVia herself donated money for materials and Republic offered a less-expensive rate for its Dumpster services.

An Aurora homeowner receives new roof

Union members did fine work and the finished product looks great. Jennifer Rice/staff photography

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“This is Aurora. This is what we do in Aurora — we work together to solve issues so people’s lives are better,” Chapa LaVia said.

She firmly believes the quality of work organized labor does is second-to-none. “It’s the best training you can get in a vocational arena,” she added.

If the community looked to each other more often, it would rely less on federal or state government, which is something LaVia would like to see more of.

“Our community is our brothers and sisters,” she said.

SMW Local 73 celebrates, honors veterans

Sheet Metal Workers Local 73

Sheet Metal Workers Local 73 in Hillside held its annual Veterans Luncheon Nov. 6 as a way to give back to its veteran members. During the event, it donated $224,000 to Salute, Inc., a veteran organization that provides financial support for military men and women. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Nov. 20, 2016
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

HILLSIDE — A recent SMART Regional Convention in Chicago proved to be a catalyst for fundraising efforts by Sheet Metal Workers Local 73 to help a local veteran organization — Salute, Inc.

Donations received during the convention, and matched by SMART, totaled $224,000, which was donated Nov. 6 to Salute, Inc. founders Will and Mary Beth Beiersdorf, during SMW Local 73’s annual Veterans Luncheon.

“I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done,” SMW Local 73 President Rocco Terranova told his members in attendance at the veterans luncheon. “This organization does what it says it does,” he explained.

Salute, Inc.

Salute, Inc., founder Will Beiersdorf, holding T-shirts, and his wife Mary Beth pass out shirts to veterans at Sheet Metal Workers Local 73. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Salute, Inc., a non-profit organization, provides financial support for military men and women through a variety of fundraising activities.

This is the 12th year the SMW Local 73 Veterans Committee has held a luncheon for its veteran members. The committee fundraises through its monthly 50/50 union meeting raffles, and donations and proceeds from the sale of ads in its Veterans Committee luncheon booklet.

Sheet Metal Workers Local 73

Members enjoy a lunch, conversation, and raffle opportunities at Sheet Metal Workers Local 73 union hall Nov. 6. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Veterans Committee Secretary Mike Roche said this year, the committee has been able to give out more than $5,400 to various organizations.

A new, younger member was recently added to the Veterans Committee, bring some “new blood” to the committee, said SMW 73 Local Veterans Committee Director of Veterans’ Affairs Eric Olson.

Sheet Metal Workers Local 73

Two Sheet Metal Workers Local 73 veterans, Dominic LaCaria, left, and Paul McNutt, right, were the BIG raffle winners Nov. 6 during the union’s annual Veterans Day Luncheon. They both won a 50-inch Samsung Smart TV. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

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“Our newest committee member is currently an apprentice, and I’m happy to say, we have 16 apprentices right now that our veterans,” Olson explained. The committee is looking to bridge the gap between the older and younger veterans.

Hillside Mayor Joe Tamburino, who is a familiar face at the luncheon, came again this year. Tamburino served in the Army from 1968-70.

Troubled workers’ comp system shows need for single-payer health care

illinois_single_payer

Illinois Single Payer Coalition

By Johanna Ryan with Anne Scheetz, MD
Johanna Ryan is a workers’ comp paralegal and a member of the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition.
Anne Scheetz, MD, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program and a founding member of the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition, cared for many patients with work-related health problems before her retirement from clinical practice.
Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016

Please sign up as a supporter, persuade your union to do the same, and make sure to get involved. References:
– Number of Illinois workers’ comp claims
– Gov. Bruce Rauner’s turn-around agenda
– Illinois occupational illness and injury statistics

In Illinois and around the nation, big business has labeled workers’ compensation a system in crisis. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has depicted it as a millstone around the necks of Illinois employers, who he claims are shelling out too much money to treat injuries that might not even be work-related. Rauner and other Republican governors have made “reforming” workers’ compensation a key part of their pro-business agenda.

However, any worker who has had to use the system lately knows the real “workers’ comp crisis” is too little health care, not too much. In Illinois, as in most states, your employer is required to carry standard workers’ comp insurance. But it’s private companies like Liberty Mutual, Travelers and AIG/Chartis that provide the coverage — and they would much rather pay lawyers to fight your claim than pay doctors to help you get well.

Under the system they’ve created, a worker hurt on the job is actually at higher risk of being denied medical care (or having their treatment cut short) than a worker who falls getting out of the bathtub at home.

We believe the best way to fight the growing attacks on workers’ compensation is to take private insurance companies out of the picture. A public, single-payer health care system, financed by taxes rather than insurance premiums, would accomplish these goals:

– Eliminate delays and outright denial of care and the resulting long-term adverse effects on workers’ health;
– Take medical decisions out of the hands of insurance companies and place them where they belong: in the hands of patients and their doctors; and
– Make prevention the preferred approach to work-related health problems by strengthening our public health infrastructure.

This is the type of health care system workers in almost every other wealthy industrialized nation take for granted. Here in the USA, it has been endorsed by the United Mine Workers, National Nurses United, the Machinists’ Union, Amalgamated Transit Union and many others. Single-payer health care is a pro-active, rather than a reactive, approach to workers’ health. It is an ambitious program, but workers deserve no less.

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To get medical care in a workers’ comp case, it’s not enough to show it’s necessary. You must also prove it’s related to a workplace injury. This can be especially hard for “wear-and-tear” injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, but it can also affect the worker who falls off a ladder or is struck by a forklift.

Private insurers love to litigate these cases – they know it has a chilling effect on the next worker who thinks about filing a claim. So they’re happy to spend several thousand dollars to have you examined by an employer-friendly medical specialist who will declare your work injury was just a “minor strain,” and your current symptoms are due to chronic arthritis, an old football injury or some other cause. No PT for you, pal, and definitely no surgery.

Rauner wants to make the standard for causation even higher, by requiring that an accident at work must be more than 50 percent responsible for an injury compared to all other causes. He also wants the records made by the treating physician — the one who actually knows the patient and who assessed the problem at the time of its occurrence — to count for less, and the opinions of those employer-friendly “independent medical examiners” to count for more.

Such changes taken together would gut workers’ compensation. Employers who are reckless with workers’ health will be even more confident they can get away with it. Workers’ risk of injury will increase, and their access to care and compensation will decrease.

In theory, workers’ comp expenses should give employers an incentive to make the workplace safer. It would be nice if that were the case. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find anyone in the field who believes it. Workers’ comp costs are much like the legal fines and penalties paid by drug companies — just a cost of doing business, which is never big enough to make them change their ways.

Employers are fond of moaning about the high cost of workers’ comp, and make a public scandal out of any individual case of cheating, real or alleged. But the real root of rising costs is litigation, not featherbedding or fraud. Private workers’ comp carriers have made Illinois a happy hunting ground for insurance defense lawyers, even as the number of workers’ comp claims in the past decade has shrunk by more than a third. The changes Rauner proposes would make this much worse.

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Take the example of one injured worker we know: A woman who’s been waiting a year and a half for repair of her torn rotator cuff, precisely because of this type of dispute. She now has neck and back problems too, thanks to months of trying to use her trapezius muscles to compensate for her damaged shoulder. Ask any doctor: when she finally gets her surgery, the results will be worse than average on account of all that delay.

A single-payer health care system would cover the care she needed, with no questions asked. Her lawyers could concentrate on fighting to get her disability payments and an eventual cash settlement; we wouldn’t have to to fight over medical care. Our client could at least get her surgery and physical therapy, even if the workers’ comp carrier denied her weekly benefit checks. She could recover and be working a new job while she waited for her shoulder claim to settle.

Relying on workers’ comp claims filed by individuals (or their next of kin) to enforce respect for workplace safety just doesn’t make sense. Would we depend on lawsuits alone to keep poisoned or spoiled foods off the market? Workplace safety, just like food safety, is a public health issue. We need public enforcement bodies, with real power, and with real penalties for violations.

According to an AFL-CIO report, in 2015, Illinois only had enough Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors to inspect all job sites only once every 143 years. The average penalty for a fatality investigation, of which there were 56, was $8,553. This clearly falls short of what’s needed to enforce workplace safety standards and protect workers’ lives. (A few states, such as Washington, have public workers’ compensation insurance funds with some limited powers over workplace safety. Unions in Washington strongly support this system. When Liberty Mutual and other private insurers tried to enter the market a few years ago, labor fought the measure through a statewide referendum and won.)

Wouldn’t we all be better off under a single-payer system that guaranteed treatment for any illness or injury, without a legal battle over the cause? Such a system would not only be cheaper, but it would provide better care. There was a time when most specialists welcomed workers’ comp patients. However, given endless payment delays and litigation hassles, those days are fast becoming history.

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Instead of seeing the best doctors, too many injured workers have to put up with pro-employer “occupational health” clinics, or third-rate providers who pad their bills with useless charges to compensate for long payment delays.

Imagine if everyone, from janitors to CEO’s, carried the same health insurance card! You would choose your own doctors and other care providers. No specialist would turn you away because of the type of insurance you had. You and your doctor – not your employer’s workers’ comp carrier, or any other insurance company, would make decisions about tests, surgery, physical therapy, medical equipment, and other care.

All care would be paid for by progressive taxes, and free at the point of service. Hospitals would not shut down in low-income neighborhoods if the residents had the same high-quality insurance as everyone else. No one would lose their health insurance through leaving a job, going on strike, or for any other reason.

Also, injured workers could get immediate care without having to prove to anyone exactly where, when or how they got hurt.

Workers’ comp lawyers (and we’d still need them) could concentrate on fighting for compensation – and we wouldn’t see clients dropping their claims or settling for pennies because they were desperate for medical care.

A strong public health system, the foundation on which primary care and specialty care must rest in order to be effective, would make protection of workers’ health a high priority.

That’s what a single payer system could offer all of us, union or nonunion. It sounds like a better way to us.

Chicago Jobs with Justice honors IFT President Dan Montgomery

Chicago Jobs with Justice

Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery receives the Charlie Hayes award Sept. 15 from Chicago Jobs with Justice Executive Director Susan Hurley. Montgomery was introduced by Karen Lewis. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley
labornews.com

You can view Karen Lewis’ introduction of Dan Montgomery by going to the Fox Valley Labor News YouTube channel

You can view Dan Montgomery talking to guests by going to the Fox Valley Labor News YouTube channel

CHICAGO — Dan Montgomery was content on staying an English teacher in Skokie. He entered the profession to teach, but somewhere along the way, he become a unionist. And he’s OK with that.

“Along the way, I became a union leader and it’s been a great honor and privilege. Along the way, I discovered I loved it,” Montgomery said.

He’s OK with being part of a group of people who work hard for the continuance of democracy. “You realize you’re part of something much bigger than just those 40 minutes in your classroom every day,” Montgomery explained.

Since 2010 Montgomery’s been president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) union where he’s fought for justice for teachers, students and working families throughout the state and Chicago. For that, Chicago Jobs with Justice (CJwJ) honored Montgomery with its Charlie Hayes Award Sept. 15.

CJwJ is also celebrating 25 years of activism and organizing.

IFT Vice President Karen Lewis introduced Montgomery and recalled their election as IFT officers and traveling to its convention. “There were people that we defeated that were still on the IFT Executive Board, so, it was a very awkward time,” she said to laughs from guests.

Chicago

Chicago Teachers Union President and Illinois Federation of Teachers Vice President Karen Lewis addresses Chicago Jobs with Justice honoree Dan Montgomery. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

There were some veteran IFT officials that wanted someone other than Montgomery making decisions, suggesting he act instead as a shadow to the real leaders. Lewis wanted to give Montgomery a shot. She convinced him it would be OK; that they would figure it out together.

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When Lewis talks about Montgomery, you can see the admiration and respect she has for him. “I appreciate that he took that leap of faith. He went over that mountain with me, and we’ve been at it ever since,” Lewis explained.

Montgomery has recognized the need to build solidarity with other unions, with the community and with parents.

Teaching in Skokie, he said his students had parents who worked middle-class jobs. The parents were the kind of people Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump doesn’t care about.

Even though Montgomery taught to the best of his ability, nothing would have a greater impact on the lives of his students than if a parent lost their job.

“That will have a bigger impact on their lives than anything I could do as a teacher,” he explained.