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State Stix

Illinois labor unions: negotiating the 1990s

"The work force is changing, and unions will continue to change in order to represent that work force. In particular, there are more women and two-earner families in the work force, and the service and public sectors are growing."

Source: Richard J. Walsh, president. Illinois State AFL/CIO, Springfield.

New members, new agendas

Helen Miller, vice president of Chicago Local 880 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU): "The fight is not just about wages and benefits. It's about changes in our neighborhoods through the ballot box and the media."

Source: Miller's speech to the 20th Anniversary Assembly of the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) held in Chicago July 15-16.

Why would a bunch of community organizations want to start a union?

"In 1978 the executive board of ACORN voted to form its own union. They did that because people working in low-wage industries were not being organized. The attitude was: 'Why would you want to organize those people? They're too scattered; they move around too much; you can't get enough dues from them.' But we believe that if people are getting messed over, you need to organize them."

Source: Keith Kelleher, head organizer of SEIU Local 880.

SEIU Local 880

ACORN created United Labor Unions (ULU) to organize low-wage workers. In Chicago, ULU organized employees of the Illinois home care program. In 1985 the Chicago ULU became Local 880 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Local 880 has 1,300 members, represents 1,500 workers and

is negotiating for 1,200 more. Source: Same as above.

Who are the members?

Members of Local 880 are mostly women. About 90 percent are African-American. 7-8 percent arc Hispanic or Asian. About 2 percent are white (often Polish). Source: Same as above.

What kind of work do they do?

Local 880 members give home care to senior citizens and disabled people so that they can stay out of nursing homes. Home workers are employed by private contractors who contract with the Illinois Department on Aging. The average hourly wage is about $4.12.

Source: Same as above.

Taking the action to Englewood

On July 15 several hundred ACORN delegates from organizations in 26 cities, including SIEU Local 880, visited a tree-lined street in Englewood on Chicago's south side. Their mission: to protest the failure of the quasi-public Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) to implement affordable housing provisions mandated by the federal S&L bailout. Their target: an abandoned house once owned by an S&L and now owned by the RTC.

Source: Margaret S. Knoepfle.

'Rats, Trash and Crime'

The RTC is authorized to sell off the defaulted mortgage property of failed S&Ls. It is also authorized to set aside homes appraised at $65,000 or less for qualified low-income buyers and to provide discounted prices and below-market financing. But RTC's implementation has fallen far short of its promises, and the homes stay unsold at an estimated annual cost to taxpayers of $7,000 per house. The effect of RTC's inaction on the neighborhoods where these houses are located has earned it the nickname of "Rats, Trash and Crime." To combat this, ACORN asserted "squatters' rights": On July 15 Kevin and Carol Johnson, a young working couple, took an ax to the boarded-up door of a modest house in Englewood and claimed possession.

Source: Same as above.

Taking the action to the Loop

On July 16 nearly 1,000 ACORN delegates accompanied by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D., Mass.) marched through downtown Chicago to the headquarters of the U.S. Savings and Loan League. They demanded that the league accept some responsibility for the S&L crisis and support Kennedy's legislation to put the burden of the bailout on wealthy taxpayers. Source: Same as above.

Why would a bunch of union members ally themselves with a community organization?

"These things affect our union members. Homeworkers have a big housing problem. Many are paying $300-400 a month for deteriorated apartments. Some of our members might qualify for a house under the RTC program. Even making $4 an hour you could qualify if other family members are working too. Under the ACORN Housing Corporation's program a family with an income of $12,000 to $15,000 a year could qualify for a home if they can make the payments."

Source: Kelleher.

Union news blues: April 1990

The Eureka Company, a Bloomington-Normal vacuum cleaner manufacturer owned by a Swedish multinational, demanded union concessions while masking plans to move production to low-wage shops in Texas and Mexico.

Source: Michael G. Matejka. "We live on no island," Union News, Bloomington, April 1990.

Best way to talk to workers in Mexican 'maquiladores'

Surreptitiously. Workers in these factories (maquiladores) can be fired if they are suspected of union sympathies. They can also be beaten up. Or they can disappear entirely, which is what happened last year to four workers at a Ciudad Juarez electronics plant where there was a spontaneous strike.

Source: Matjeka, August 14 interview.

Illinois Farmworkers Ministry

"We are affiliated with the Illinois Conference of Churches and have been supporting the farmworkers since 1920. We are not a union and do not organize. But we support both the United Farm Workers and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Right now FLOC is negotiating with Campbell's Soup, Heinz and Dean Foods. Dean Foods is headquartered in Illinois, but its farms are mostly in Wisconsin and Michigan. We think the intent of FLOC is to be a Midwest Farmworkers Union."

Source: Olga Sierra-Sandman. Illinois Farmworkers Ministry, Downers Grove.

Organizing in state universities

"Administrations will be able to delay

8/August & September 1990/Illinois Issues

organizing, but unionization is inevitable particularly for clerical workers. At the University of Illinois campus |Urbana-Champaign] comparable jobs on the state level pay in excess of 20 percent of what UI clericals are paid.

Source: Steve Culen, executive director of American Federation of State County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME), Springfield.

1989 Pittston coal strike

"We educated ourselves. White, mountain coal miners learning about Martin Luther King sat down nonviolently in roads and blocked coal trucks, sat down on steps and blocked court houses. . . . Four thousand people went to jail in Pittston."

Source: Cecil Roberts, vice president of the United Mine Workers of America, at the 1990 Midwest Academy Retreat in Chicago.

General funds up

The end of month balances for June and July were $395.044 million and $531.850 million. The average daily balances were $365.015 million and $507.358 million.

Source: Office of the Comptroller.                           

Unemployment up

The nation's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.2 percent in June and 5.5 percent in July; Illinois' was 6.0 percent in June and 6.7 percent in July.

In June the state's civilian labor force consisted of 5.986 million people with 5.625 million working and 361,000 unemployed. In July there were 6.102 million people in the labor force; 5.691 million were working and 411,000 were unemployed.

Final unemployment rates for the state's metro areas in April and May were:

Aurora-Elgin, 5.9 percent; 5.0 percent.
Bloomington-Normal, 4.2 percent; 3.3 percent.
Champaign-Urbana-Rantoul, 3.6 percent; 3.6 percent.
Chicago, 6.0 percent; 5.3 percent.
Davenport, Rock Island, Moline (Illinois sector), 6.7 percent; 5.5 percent.
Decatur, 7.1 percent; 5.9 percent.
Joliet, 6.7 percent; 6.0 percent.
Kankakee, 7.6 percent; 6.2 percent.
Lake County, 3.9 percent; 3.2 percent.
Peoria, 6.1 percent; 5.1 percent.
Rockford, 6.1 percent; 5.1 percent.
Springfield, 4.1 percent; 4.0 percent.
East St. Louis (Illinois sector), 7.2 percent; 6.4 percent.

Source: Department of Employment Security.

Margaret S. Knoepfle

August & September 1990/Illinois Issues/9

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