Executive Director Reports

Our time is now

Fairness is the bedrock on which our democracy rests

Roberta Lynch

For more than two years now, workers of every kind from one end of the country to the other have been standing up and standing together—refusing to back down—to demand the respect they deserve for the jobs they perform and the fair treatment they need to ensure a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.It’s about the UAW members in the Quad Cities, who walked off the John Deere assembly line in 2021 demanding an end to their two-tier wage structure—and stayed out for over a month until real progress was made in tackling that injustice.

It’s about the flight attendants and airline pilots at just about every major airline in the country—all of them union members—who have taken to the picket lines and stood prepared to strike to ensure that the hefty profits the companies are making —over $1 billion for United last year—are shared with the workers who keep those planes flying.

It’s about the thousands of Starbucks workers who have stood firm as the supposedly “progressive” coffee company fires those who are trying to organize a union.

It’s about the more than 300,000 UPS drivers who are holding strike practice drills as I write to make clear they are prepared to shut the company down if a new contract is not reached.

It’s about some 200,000 actors and screenwriters who are out on strike right now while studio moguls who earn hundreds of millions annually gloat about how they will hold out until workers can no longer pay their rents or mortgages.

And it’s about us, AFSCME members in Illinois.

All of the testimony at public hearings, picketing and sheer grit that it took the Peoria Public Library employees to win the best contract they’ve ever had.

All of the Whiteside County public health workers fighting for a first contract, going up against an administration that shows them nothing but hostility.

All of the Rockford school bus drivers who went all out to defeat the school board members who had been totally disrespecting them and just won a new contract with the new board that raises their wages by as much as 20%.

All of the protests, the signs and stickers, the pledge cards, the fierce determination that it took to reach a contract settlement for tens of thousands of state of Illinois employees just this month.

The good news here is that hundreds of thousands of workers—from graduate students to home care workers to museum employees—are coming together to form unions to insist that their voices be heard—and their concerns addressed.

And more good news: Millions of workers who already have union representation—from correctional officers to firefighters to steelworkers to nurses—are becoming ever more determined to make the fight for what they deserve.

The pandemic years placed enormous demands on so many frontline workers—especially those in the public sector—who continued showing up to do their jobs despite the risks involved. And in the wake of the pandemic, we’ve seen a radical shift in workforce metrics—with worker shortages in almost every sector, most especially again in the public sector. Such shortages place immense pressure on the remaining workers who must work large amounts of overtime and cope with ever-larger workloads.

While these workers were often hailed as heroes in the heat of the COVID moment, we have learned that this designation meant little in real terms to the wealthy and powerful who spent those high-risk days safely ensconced on their super yachts. (No surprise, the sales of super yachts—and mansions!—are soaring.)

For the uber-rich the pandemic only meant opportunities to further consolidate their riches without regard for the rest of the country. It meant gleefully amassing ever more wealth, untroubled bythe growing inequality in our country.

In fact, since 2020 when the pandemic was at its height, the top 1% got 64% of the newly created wealth in our country.

Put another way, during the pandemic the collective wealth of 657 billionaires grew by 44.6%—a “pay increase” that no ordinary worker could ever dream of.

So, yes, we are standing up—and we’ll keep on standing. We know that the jobs we do are vital, that the work is often difficult and demanding, that we—all working people—do make this country happen every single day. And we are deserving of respect for all that we do.

We know that fairness is the bedrock upon which our democracy rests. Our country cannot thrive and prosper if wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny slice of the population. We deserve a fair share.

The unity of vision and purpose that sustained us in our fight for a new state contract—and for contracts with other employers all across Illinois—will continue to propel us forward to ensure that every member—and every working person in our country—has the respect and fair treatment that is rightfully theirs.