October 10, 2008

SPRINGFIELD (Oct.8)—Delegates to the 38th convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO unanimously elected Michael T. Carrigan to his first full four-year term as president and Timothy Drea to his first full four-year tern as Secretary-Treasurer.

UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo was elected to a full four-year term as vice president.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by the organized-labor movement with this kind of position and to be elected to a full term,” Szabo said. “Until my appointment as VP two years ago, rail labor hadn’t had a position on the Illinois AFL-CIO Executive Board for some 30 years.”

The state federation further recognized the UTU by asking Assistant Legislative Director Bob Guy to present at a Legislative Workshop.

Guy said he told the union leaders, including fellow panelists Ray Harris of AFSCME and Todd Vandermyde of the Operating Engineers, that the cornerstone of the UTU legislative program in Illinois is membership involvement.

“I told them our members have tremendous power—the power they exercise when they pick up the phone and call a legislator,” Guy said.

“When the chips are down and a legislator needs to make a decision about how to vote, he doesn’t want to hear from me or from Joe,” Guy said. “He wants to hear from his own constituents. That’s where our union’s power really comes from: When we issue a Membership Alert and ask the members to call their legislators and ask them to vote for a UTU-supported bill, membership power exerts a tremendous effect.”

Guy said that because most of the new members are on line it’s not that difficult for them to stay updated on what the union is doing and what it expects of them.

“The stories in ‘Hot Topics’ explain the challenges we’re facing and the legislation that’s been introduced to address an issue,” he said. “When the time comes for members to make a telephone outreach to their legislators, they usually understand the issue and their role in affecting the legislator’s vote. By alerting them that we expect them to be politically active and then making it easy for them to act, we show them that they have political power they never knew they had.”

Szabo said those are fundamental dynamics of “borrowed power.”

“The real power of the union’s legislative program is in the hands of the members,” he said. “Bob and I can only ‘borrow’ it to help protect our member’s interests.

“The union leadership can go to Springfield and establish positive relationships with lawmakers and suggest language for new laws, but ultimately we have no power to get a lawmaker to vote one way or the other,” Szabo said. “That power belongs to the members. If the UTU is respected in Springfield, it’s because our members have won the union that respect.”

Szabo also said the fact that Bob Guy – in his first year as Assistant Director – was selected to present in the workshop was a credit to the continuity of UTU legislative program and the training Guy received from retired Assistant Director John Burner.

“John was a respected professional when it came to working with the Illinois General Assembly, and over his final four years he shared those skills with Bob,” Szabo said.

“While an old-pro like John will always be missed, the transition to Bob has been so seamless. It’s a credit to Bob’s skills and his training that our members stay informed and involved. Nothing – I mean nothing – is more powerful than membership involvement.”