Tales from the Front Lines - Blog by Paul Gamboa

There’s a musician that I’m quite fond of named Frank Turner from the UK. He is a former punk musician whose current catalog leans more towards acoustic folk.   His music can be fiercely political to put it mildly.

Several of his songs have comprised the soundtrack to this year for me. However, if I had to find a musical allegory for this year, there is a song called “Love Ire & Song.” [If you choose to listen to the song, you’re awesome. However as can often happen when it comes to discussing politics, this song contains a small handful of very NSFW language. You’ve been warned.] It’s a powerful ballad about the singer’s intense frustration with the political system and the burnout that can ensue.

“Well it was bad enough the feeling, the first time it hit, when you realized your parents had let the world all go to [the birds]…..”

On Tuesday night, Naperville, the town I grew up in, live in, and work in, brought forward a motion to approve aspects of Governor Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda.

If you haven’t read it, you need to. Seriously, read it. More of it directly impacts us than doesn’t. It tells you all you need to know about what could happen to our profession, our association and our schools if he is able to get through his agenda.

In support of this, the governor has been making the rounds to various municipalities trying to put forth a now standard ALEC-esque, anti-worker, anti-union agenda.

Many people scoff and point out that many of his proposals are illegal and there’s no way they’ll fly. That doesn’t matter to him, he’s having municipalities vote on it anyway. It’s much easier to govern when you have zero regard for law.

Quite thoughtful of them to be so willing to help out.

“….and the values and ideals for which many had fought and died, had been killed off in committees, and left to die by the wayside.”

The strategy is simple. He’s trying to use municipal/city council votes to convince the legislature that there’s grassroots support to destroy the people he blames for bankrupting the state: teachers, public employees and union members with the audacity to actually want to earn a middle class wage.

His people have even been so kind as to draft the resolution for each municipality. Very kind of him to help them out like that.

In Naperville’s meeting, two council members even relayed that Rauner called them directly to tell him how important this was. One even bragged about saving the call. I would like to have been a fly on the wall to hear if Rauner mentioned what might happen if the council didn’t approve his idea.

Many of you may remember Rauner’s visit to the RA last year. He talked about how strongly he believed in collective bargaining. From looking at his turnaround agenda, he clearly does.

However, his plan also says he doesn’t believe that we should be allowed to negotiate third party contractors, insurance benefits, association time, curriculum, student discipline, required levels of staffing (class size), evaluation procedures and use of seniority. Additionally, acceptable wage increases need to be approved by municipalities and any salary increases cannot go beyond their parameters.

So we have the right to collectively bargain, but nothing that affects us is open to negotiations. This is the exact same thing that happened in Wisconsin. The language is pretty much identical. There are other things in the plan that are designed to destroy unions, both public and private.

“Well we’ve been a good few hours drinking, and I’m gonna say what everyone’s thinking. If we’re stuck on this ship and it’s sinking, then we might as well have a parade. ‘Cause if it’s still gonna hurt in the morning, and a better plan’s set to be forming, then where’s the harm spending an evening, in manning the old barricades?”

We knew this was coming to our town. It’s been in communities around us and we knew it was just a matter of time. What we didn’t know was that we would find out at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon that it was coming to my hometown.

I can thank my wife for reading Twitter during the RA, otherwise we likely would have missed it. Naperville happened to tweet out the agenda. She told me and immediately we went to work.

As I am bogged down with bargaining, the other presidents in my office made phone calls to other unions and council members were contacted. The mayor was contacted. They contacted their memberships. It was everyone working together and it was beautiful.

We got the word out. It looks like our members were listening. They absolutely brought it.

At the Naperville City Council meeting, roughly 100 members of my association alone showed up to voice their outrage over this agenda. Many members of surrounding locals who were residents of Naperville also showed. Those were just the teachers. This was on two days notice.

There were more than 500 members from other associations as well. It was glorious.

Naperville, likely knowing the union storm that was prepared to flood the meeting, slashed the collective bargaining and right-to-work language that Rauner has standard in his pre-drafted resolution.

This room was filled with union leaders from UAW, IBEW, SEIU, operating engineers, Carpenters, Teamsters, ESPs, laborers, police, fire, and more… it was glorious.

All were working for one common goal: protect our rights from the constant barrage of forces aligned to destroy us. Forty-eight speakers signed up. Every one of them directly and uniquely told their stories. They told the good that unions do. They told the services that unions provide to our society.

Former Naperville 203 Teacher Association President, and current COD Trustee, Diane McGuire said it very well. “Democracy in America is what makes us great. Why isn’t democracy in the workplace also great?”

It was an evening of eloquent speakers focused around a single goal. Stop the wave of legislative attacks on unions. They got their message across.

It worked. The council voted to indefinitely shelf Rauner’s resolution.

This was because of us. Union members look out for each other. Unions looked out for each other. We are fighting a common monster who terrifyingly is armed with pretty much unlimited funds to use at his whim.

However, don’t fool yourself, this fight is going to become hideous.

“Let’s be heroes, let’s be martyrs, let’s be radical thinkers, who never had to test drive the least of their dreams. Let’s divide up the world into the damned and the saved, and then ride to the valley like the Old Light Brigade. And we’ll straighten our backs and we won’t be afraid. And they’ll celebrate our deaths with a national parade.”

This is only the beginning. Rauner isn’t backing down. If what happened in Naperville is any indication, neither are we. We cannot lose focus. Rauner campaigned on words from the Chicago Tribune, which lauded his “laser focus” on issues.

We need to have laser focus on stopping him from destroying the middle class.

It is on us to not lose the rights that the members who came before us fought so hard for. Make no bones about it, it’s likely this strategy isn’t going to work for Rauner. He’s been met with resistance at almost every step. That just means plan B will be coming shortly. I know that I will.

When Rauner’s stooges show up to try to back door another legislative option that is illegal, contradictory to his other stances, and try to steamroll anyone who has the audacity to go against his philosophy, we need to be there. Where they go, we will be.

We need to be the ones telling why our association is good for kids. We need to be forging the narrative and not letting someone’s political agenda paint us in an unfair light. That means we need to be vigilant.

He is coming for us and don’t forget it. We can’t give up. We need to remember our strength is in our numbers. In my town, we won round one. This fight is just getting started.

Rauner isn’t the only one who wants to take back Illinois.

I’d love to hear your comments below. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @paulgamboa. Thanks for reading!

Paul Gamboa is a teacher who is currently serving as president of the Indian Prairie Education Association.

2 COMMENTS

    • Bonnie,

      This is just the start. The more terrifying thing is that most people voting on this truly don't get what it means. I'm seeing that more and more with stories we're getting. We must remain vigilant and consistent in our response. Rauner's not going away. Neither are we.

      Paul

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