AFSCME park district workers across Illinois welcome summer
The frost of winter has given way to a sea of green—the grass is growing, the trees have sprouted new leaves. In park districts across the state, AFSCME members are there to help shepherd the summer season in.
There’s a lot of work to do: planting flowers, collecting dead tree limbs, making much-needed repairs to park buildings and more. Behind all those efforts are AFSCME members working tirelessly to make sure that their communities have a place to enjoy the many facets of the outdoors.
Planting 10,000 flowers at breakneck pace in Springfield
When maintenance foreman Josh Milleville pulls up to Springfield’s Lincoln Park in the early hours of the morning as the sun is just starting to rise, he looks out at its rolling hills and beautiful water features, and he feels something: pride.
“It’s just so peaceful,” said Milleville, the president of AFSCME Local 2050 at the Springfield Park District. “You get to go outside and work all day out there. And you just think to yourself, ‘Today is going to be a great day.’”
For the members of Local 2050, there’s a lot to do in the spring. At the Springfield Zoo, caretakers are hard at work welcoming the animals out of hibernation. At the golf courses, landscapers and maintenance crews are diligently preparing the greens and sand traps for public use. Cracks are being patched and surfaces are being acid-washed at the park district’s public pools.
Allen Glossop has been a gardener foreman at the Springfield Park District for 16 years. He and his team of six other gardeners plant, grow and tend to Edwin Watts Southwind Park’s annual program of 10,000 flowers. They start planning out the program—deciding which flowers to plant and where to plant them—when winter still has its icy grip on the park.
Throughout the winter at Southwind Park, everything the gardeners do is in preparation for the mad dash that starts at the first hint of spring. Their flower program has a strict planting schedule that they adhere to with a military-like rigidity. If every one of the 10,000 plants in their program isn’t in the ground by Mother’s Day, they’d feel like they failed the public. (It’s a deadline they’ve never missed.)
But apart from all the stress that comes from tough deadlines and long hours under a beating sun, Glossop firmly believes he has the best job in the world.
“Being outside all day and working in the gardens, it’s almost like therapy for me,” Glossop said. “Finding fulfillment in serving others, to me, is what AFSCME is all about.”
A whirlwind of maintenance and prep in Joliet
With 65 parks in their care, members of AFSCME Local 791 in the Joliet Park District have a lot of green space to clean up before schools break for summer and families begin to flood the parks.
They’re also racing to get ready for the park district’s signature annual summer event, Taste of Joliet, which kicks off on June 23. It requires a small army of AFSCME members to prepare the grounds to welcome thousands of visitors and hundreds of vendors to Joliet Memorial Stadium for a weekend of food, drinks, music and fun.
“It’s a very chaotic weekend, and we’re there to do all the essential work for it,” said Eddie Guzman, the president of AFSCME Local 791, which represents 50 employees of the Joliet Park District.
Since Guzman began working for the park district 20 years ago, they’ve built 25 parks and are constantly making improvements to existing ones to improve safety and accessibility—not to mention fun. John Leach Park, a new playground featuring all the hottest equipment, is currently under construction.
For the members of Local 791, being able to work for the enjoyment of their community is a gift in itself, Guzman said.
“Being able to see smiles from kids playing on the playground and parents thanking us for doing a good job, you know you’re really doing something for the city of Joliet.”
Local 1514 keeps America’s pastime alive for Aurora
It may be difficult to see with the naked eye, especially at the pace a normal baseball game is played, but a baseball diamond takes a lot of abuse over the course of a Little League season. Batters dig their sharp cleats into the clay in the batter’s box and the repeated force generated from a pitcher’s wind-up tears up the mound.
Diego Villanueva sees it all. A maintenance worker II in the city of Aurora Park District and a member of AFSCME Local 1514, Villanueva spends a lot of time making sure that Aurora’s baseball fields are up to standard.
Before games started this spring, he and his coworkers undertook the large project of completely replacing the clay on several diamonds.
“We have to groom [the clay] every day to make sure it doesn’t get hard between all the dry heat and rain,” he said. “We like to keep it nice and loose for the players.”
Between tending to the clay, striping the foul lines and mowing the outfield, maintaining the baseball fields is a daily task for Local 1514 members.
“We take pride in everything we do,” Villanueva said. “I want to make it presentable for people to come enjoy it. I think we all find pride and joy in that.”