By Mike Matejka
On September 27, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner told the Pantagraph that Bloomington-Normal was in serious contention for a Mazda-Toyota auto plant, but the existence of unions and Illinois laws lost the potential jobs to Alabama.
The Governor’s statement, part of his re-election bid, raised many questions. If Bloomington-Normal was in supposed conjunction for this plant, why weren’t local leaders included in his visit to Japan to, which did include delegates from DeKalb and Roselle? Is this using a job temptation as another way for the Governor to dismiss the hard-working people of Central Illinois?
Most troubling was his union conjectures. Somehow, it is assumed that a labor union floats down out of the sky and imposes itself on a workplace. What the Governor misses and what employees at the Mitsubishi plant could tell him was that they democratically voted to have a union. A union is not an outside institution, it is a workers’ organization within a plant.
After Diamond-Star Motors first came to Bloomington-Normal, the United Auto Workers held an organizing drive. Workers voted in a federally-supervised election on union representation. That election gave the United Auto Workers the legal right to represent workers.
Anyone familiar with UAW Local 2488 at Mitsubishi would know that union was a very democratic organization. Just like political parties, workers within the plant formed caucuses and ran for union office. Negotiating teams came through that process and contracts were brought back to the membership for their approval or rejection. Many UAW 2488 local union presidents and other officers only served one term, because almost every election within that union was contested and the membership voted.
Rauner’s agenda throughout his Governorship is based on low-road economics. Rather than pushing for middle-class jobs, his agenda is cutting the minimum wage and discouraging worker voices. Mitsubishi workers, thanks to their UAW contract, had decent pay and benefits. They could afford to buy homes and the cars they built. They were active in the community, as coaches, scout leaders and United Way contributors. Two particular charities, Toys for Tots and the Bone Marrow Registry, were greatly aided by involved union leaders and generous members.
Henry Ford realized an important thing when he began building Model Ts. He paid his assembly line workers the unheard of sum of $5 per day to mass-produce his mass-consumption autos. Ford realized a consumer economy could only thrive when average workers made enough to buy the products they produced.
Governor Rauner should take a lesson from Ford. A prosperous Illinois means working people not just scraping by. Exercising their democratic right to assemble and organize, workers create a better life, not just for themselves, but for their community. Enticing false promises is not leadership; recognizing hard working people and supporting an economy that rewards them is.
Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Normal. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society.
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