AFSCME members set legislative agenda and electoral strategy
Hundreds of delegates from AFSCME local unions across the state gathered in Springfield on January 27 for the AFSCME PEOPLE Conference to set the union’s 2018 legislative agenda and formulate a plan to elect pro-worker candidates in the March primary and November general elections.
They met at a time of unprecedented challenge as a powerful network of the super-rich seek to strip working people of our ability to come together in strong unions. As we’re fighting back at the bargaining table, at our worksites, at rallies and on picket lines, and in the state and federal courts, we must also fight back at the polls.
Anti-union forces are marshaling ever greater piles of money in their determination to re-elect Bruce Rauner as governor and gain control of the Illinois General Assembly. It’s more important than ever for union members to come together to support candidates who will stand with working people. And that was a key theme for speakers and workshops at the conference.
“If it weren’t for being involved in politics and making our voices heard in that arena, public employees in Illinois wouldn’t have their unions today,” Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch told the packed crowd.
Describing the growing influence of the Koch Brothers and the shadowy network of millionaires and billionaires who are consolidating ever greater wealth and power, Lynch stressed the critical importance of grassroots involvement in the 2018 elections: “This is the year that people power beats dark money!” she said.
“We can’t keep rewarding the rich and abandoning the poor,” said guest speaker Senator Don Harmon to the AFSCME members and retirees. He said the time is now for protecting working families and creating a fair tax structure in Illinois: “Supporting unions is the key to supporting middle class families.”
AFSCME members and retirees also met in small-group workshops to tackle big challenges that union members face in 2018 and beyond. They focused in particular on getting the message out to co-workers, friends and neighbors in order to win key races in 2018.
“We have a vision where work is valued over wealth and people are valued over greed,” said Council 31 Deputy Director Mike Newman as he closed the conference. Members and retirees were called to action—to work to make a better future.
Local union presidents, retiree sub-chapter presidents and PEOPLE chairs of AFSCME Council 31 met on a regional basis in advance of the conference to review the voting records of incumbent state legislators and interview new candidates. The PEOPLE Executive Committee, comprised of the regional committee chairs, made final endorsements for state legislative races based on those recommendations.
And at the PEOPLE Legislative and Endorsement Conference on January 27, the full body of delegates voted on endorsements in statewide and Congressional races.
The PEOPLE Conference did not make any endorsement in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Recognizing the importance of focusing all of our union’s efforts on defeating Bruce Rauner in November, the Conference voted to delegate to the PEOPLE Executive Committee the authority to make an official endorsement in the General Election contest for governor as soon as the Primary Election is over.
The PEOPLE Executive Committee expressed its concern about two Democratic candidates for Attorney General who have a history of opposing the interests of AFSCME members—Scott Drury and Pat Quinn—and recommended the endorsement of Kwame Raoul, currently serving as a state senator, in that race as the candidate most likely to be able to consolidate broad support. The Conference accepted the recommendation and voted to endorse Sen. Raoul for AG in the Democratic Primary.
In addition to electoral endorsements, delegates also approved AFSCME Council 31’s 2018 legislative agenda.
The union pledges to work for the following in the 2018 legislative session: protect workers’ rights; support responsible budgets and adequate revenues for state and local governments; pay state employees back wages owed; oppose attempts to cut public employee pensions; demand safer working conditions; fight privatization of public services and assets; support adequate funding for state universities; and fight to improve wage levels in AFSCME-represented nonprofit agencies.