It is a shame the governor wasn’t present when Jean Rogers testified at an Illinois Senate committee hearing last week.

Gov. Rauner has made it clear he believes the ability of public employees to have a voice in their working conditions is a scourge he intends to eliminate.

That belief is the basis for his “turnaround agenda,” calling for the elimination of collective bargaining via “empowerment zones” (aka “right-to-work” zones) – areas where voters can deny rights, reduce pay and cut benefits to workers.

The fact the zones are apparently illegal and, if they became prevalent, would damage the frail state economy does not concern the governor.

But maybe he lacks information. That’s why it’s a shame he missed Jean Rogers’ testimony. Only the hardest of hearts could listen to Rogers and fail to, at least, consider the possibility there is value to allowing workers to bargain collectively.

Rogers came to Springfield to explain to senators how collective bargaining moved her off a road that appeared to lead nowhere.

“As a divorced Black female with a high school equivalency diploma, 6 pregnancies resulting in 4 live births, and (to use the vernacular) a “stank” attitude, my chances for failure were about as high as they could be,” Rogers testified.

Rogers described how her inadequate education forced her to accept low-paying, no-benefits jobs.

She took in ironing, and worked as a waitress, a house-cleaner and as a laundress, to feed her children.

The senators, who had seemed distracted when Rogers’ started talking, became rapt listeners as Rogers described herself as “emotionally hopeless and depressed” during this time. Until, with the help of her family, her pastor and a former teacher, she found a path to a better life.

A path that began by getting a job that had union representation.

“That job allowed me to get tuition reimbursement to further my education. It allowed me to be paid a living wage so I could live in decent affordable housing in a safe neighborhood,” Rogers said.

“It also provided insurance benefits so I could afford effective contraception (cause it seemed like I had a kid for every preventive method there was.)”

The stability offered by a good job that paid a living wage and included quality benefits allowed Rogers, a high school dropout, to return to school and earn two masters degrees, and numerous certifications.

She acquired the qualifications needed to become a social worker, a position she held for 19 years in Dolton-Riverdale School District 148, where she was able to help thousands of children trying to overcome difficult home lives.

The stability that became with the union employment helped her to raise her family.

“My 57-, 56-, 55-, and 51-year-old children are alive and well, with a bachelor, two masters, and a doctorate degree.”

Rogers told senators that union representation and collective bargaining made it all possible.

“I could not have accomplished everything in my life without the help of collective bargaining that helped education employees like me,” Rogers said.

“Collective bargaining allowed me to live my version of the American Dream.”

Rogers closed her remarks by urging senators to, “Please continue to give others a chance at a better life.”

It’s a shame the governor wasn’t present to hear Jean Rogers. He might have learned something about how real people live.

Gov. Rauner intends to spend the summer attacking unions. That’s bad for education and bad for students. Here’s why:

The teachers are the voice of the students

and the union is the voice of the teachers.

Maybe it’s not too late to educate him.

You have a story. Tell it.

Tell us how your union helped you achieve your version of the American Dream.

  • How has your union helped you acquire the skills needed to have the career you want?
  • How has your local union bargained to give students the best possible education
    • Class size?
    • More time for instruction?
    • Better health/safety conditions?
    • Professional development?

The best way to fight ignorance is with education.

Tell us your story by sending an email to: ieaconnect@ieanea.org

We’ll make sure the governor hears about it.

Read the testimony of Jean Rogers.