WOODSTOCK – Pro-union organizers gathered on the Woodstock Square on Labor Day to spread the message of the importance of voting, running for office and standing in solidarity with unions.
The third annual event was held by the McHenry County Progressives and Indivisible Illinois 14, and is inspired by Woodstock’s historic connection with Eugene V. Debs, who was held in jail in Woodstock after the 1893 Pullman strike.
Event organizer and McHenry County social justice activist Pat Murfin said it was important this year to look at how the labor movement is changing and recent attacks on working people’s rights.
Cathy Johnson of Marengo is a retired teacher, and came out in honor of unions, who helped both her as a teacher and her father-in-law and son, who are millwright union workers.
“Everybody does better when everybody does better,” she said. “Every school I taught at had elected representatives who protected us when we needed it. As a teacher, you work with a lot of people, like parents, who get upset and sometimes you need a little protecting.”
Importance of voting
Carlos Acosta, a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2833, said labor has power in McHenry County, after many organizers protested against the McHenry County Board approving Gov. Bruce Rauner’s turnaround agenda.
He said that AFSCME has not had a contract with the state for more than two years, and that it is important to take the power and organize it.
He believes more residents need to run for County Board, and announced he is running for the board in the 5th District.
“When I started going to County Board meetings, I would look up and see retired people, lawyers and business owners. I’m not questioning their desire to serve, but I sense they don’t see life the way we see life as workers and union members,” he said. “We need more teachers, more laborers and people of color on the board.”
Kristina Zahroik, 14th District State Committee member and the vice chairperson of the McHenry County Democrats, spoke about the importance of voting and getting involved. She said President Donald Trump and Rauner have “skillfully orchestrated the demise of the middle class.”
“We must vote every time at every election for every level of government,” she said. “It’s not about the last election – it’s about the next election.”
Candidates from the U.S. House District 14 Jim Walz, Victor Swanson, George Webber and Matt Brolley, along with state Senate District 23 candidate Nancy Zettler, spoke about the upcoming election.
Organizers also spoke against the threat to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children.
Trump’s administration wants to end the program and delay enforcement for six months, giving Congress time to find a new program. He is expected to make an announcement Tuesday regarding the status.
Ann Legg of Woodstock came to the event with a sign in favor of DACA, hoping to spread awareness.
“I go to El Salvador every year as a volunteer to teach English to adults, so I know the situation there and why people are trying to come to the U.S.,” she said. “I know what they face if they are deported, and it is many times death.”
In McHenry County, immigration concerns over compliance with the Trust Act also were discussed.
Defense lawyer George Kililis spoke out about the McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim’s office not allowing people to post bail and leave jail. The act prohibits local and state police from searching, arresting or detaining people simply because of their immigration status.
Kililis’ client, Niceforo Macedo-Hernandez of Crystal Lake, was told he would be transferred and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials would pick him up no later than Tuesday.
“No man should be held in custody simply on the basis of their skin tone or immigration status,” Kililis said.
He asked for support as he visits with a judge at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Wally Emmerson, a member of the Automobile Mechanics Union Local 701, spoke about a strike throughout 180 unionized car dealerships in Chicago area. Dealerships affected by the strike are bargaining with the New Car Dealer Committee.
Mechanics have been on strike for six weeks now, starting negotiations on June 12. Initially, 1,700 mechanics were on strike, but deals have been reached with some suburban dealerships.
Mechanics are fighting against an 8- to 10-year apprenticeship program instead of previous contracts with four or five years. They are fighting for flex-work weeks, steps for semi-skilled and lube workers to advance to a higher classification and having a base pay of 40-hour weeks instead of working on commission.
The Crystal Lake Chrysler Jeep Dodge on Route 31 and Courtesy Buick GMC on Northwest Highway are the two dealerships affected in McHenry County.