AFSCME members leave legislative conference ready for challenges ahead
“Illinois is in grave danger from the ruthless and radical agenda of Bruce Rauner,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch told the crowd of more than 500 AFSCME members at the 2017 Legislative Conference in Springfield on January 14.
Calling Illinois “an island of resistance” against the assault on fundamental union rights, Lynch brought the crowd to their feet: “Illinois will not bow down, we will not give in!”
From an anti-union billionaire governor in our own state to a new U.S. President whose Cabinet picks prove him to be anything but a friend to working families, working people face enormous threats in 2017 and beyond.
Uniting to fight these threats was the theme of workshops and speakers at the day-long event: How do we work together to prevail against attacks on every front? Workshops stressed the importance of grassroots organizing at our worksites and in our communities in building a strong and effective response.
Legislative agenda approved
Local union presidents and PEOPLE chairs, who serve as delegates to the conference, unanimously approved AFSCME Council 31’s 2017 legislative agenda, which includes:
- Protecting workers’ rights,
- Passage of a responsible budget and adequate revenues for state and local governments,
- Fighting privatization of public services and assets,
- Supporting adequate staffing levels and quality service delivery in state agencies,
- Fighting to improve wage levels in community disability agencies and other AFSCME-represented human service providers,
- Supporting adequate funding for state universities, and
- Opposing efforts to cut pension benefits.
Turnaround agenda limps forward
Bruce Rauner has supposedly narrowed his list of 40 “turnaround” demands to four: property tax freezes, cuts to workers’ compensation, term limits and pension “reform.”
While those measures may sound innocuous, in fact his plan to freeze property taxes includes taking collective bargaining rights away from all local government employees, his cuts to workers’ compensation would make it harder for injured workers to get by when they are off work, and his pension “reforms” are about finding ways to cut employees’ pension benefits.
The target Rauner painted large on state employees’ backs has not gone away, but we keep fighting back. “Two years ago Bruce Rauner said that union membership in Illinois would be eliminated in four years. But we’re still standing,” Council 31 Deputy Director Mike Newman said.
“We know how to compromise; we do it all the time at the bargaining table, but Rauner just won’t,” Newman told the crowd. “He thinks middle class wages means you’re overpaid and calls a decent pension ‘stunningly generous’—this coming from a man who made 188 million dollars last year.”
State employees on the frontlines
“The fight of state employees for a fair contract should be the fight of every union member in the state,” Roberta Lynch stressed. “This is the toughest fight of our lives but we’re not afraid.”
AFSCME members and all union members in Illinois need to stand together to win this battle, Newman said to close the conference. “We need to keep working, building and fighting. We can’t back down, and we won’t back down.”