Organized labor unions in McLean County value our community partnerships with local businesses, and our institutions that bring opportunities and strengthen us all.

As an elected union officer covering 10 states, I use McLean County as a model. I encourage our 62 local unions to join their Chamber of Commerces, local economic development efforts, and local charities. Many are amazed when I share that our local unions here have a seat at the table with The Economic Development Council, sit on multiple local charities and community organization boards, and view the business community not as an adversary but as an ally.

When The Economic Development Council goes to Washington D.C., the delegation is not only business, education, agriculture and local government – but our local unions too. Many legislators are impressed with that community cooperation.

This not only improves employment opportunities for our members and working people, but also builds a stronger McLean County.

As I meet with local business leaders I am well aware we are going to disagree on certain topics. The question is not what we disagree on, but what can we agree on? We can then take those agreements and work together.

Every community depends upon working people having decent jobs with benefits and stability. For the construction industry, that means not chasing low-ball, out-of-town bidders who pay cheaper rates, but using local contractors who employ local people. These companies and their workforce have a reputation to uphold, and can stand by their work.

Paying local workers decent wages with benefits is economic development. Those workers can then buy their own home, purchase cars, and afford groceries. Having benefits means people are not forced into bankruptcy by medical bills, but can pay their fair cost share. Decent wages mean fewer working people lined up at the food bank.

This also requires a responsible approach from our local union leadership. We need to ensure that workers are giving a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wages. That’s why our construction unions partner with our contractors for trained apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is a great contribution to the industry that few people know about. Young people who are 18, have a high school diploma or GED, and can pass a drug test are often union apprenticeship eligible. That means three to five years training without tuition, fees or other expenses, coupled with on-the-job training and appropriate wages. Our working members and contractors contribute to the apprenticeship funds to ensure the next generation of trained, diverse workers are ready.

Our unions can’t always make large financial donations to local charities, but we are not afraid to step up as volunteers and share our donated labor and our time. This past year, Easter Seals’ Timber Pointe camp received a new horse corral, thanks to donated union labor. Soon we’ll begin preparation for the 40th annual Children’s Christmas Party, a joint effort with the McLean County Chamber of Commerce to serve families in need this December.

Together we are stronger. This Labor Day, let’s recognize our working people for their daily contributions to our well-being. And let’s salute our local unions for their positive attitude to build a better McLean County.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2, 2022 edition of The Pantagraph