There's plenty to celebrate this Labor Day weekend for MICHAEL CARRIGAN, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. But as he prepares to retire at the end of the year, he also knows there's much work to do.
Carrigan, 65, is of Decatur, and there appears to be a good chance that the organization will continue to be led by someone in central Illinois, as the group's secretary-treasurer, Taylorville native and Springfield resident TIM DREA, 61, could move into the presidency, with approval of the board.
Carrigan has led the AFL-CIO since he moved up from secretary-treasurer in 2007, when the late MARGARET BLACKSHERE retired. And there have definitely been ups and downs for labor during his tenure, with challenges particularly during the four years of former GOP Gov. BRUCE RAUNER, who was elected in 2014.
"What a difference a year makes," Carrigan said in an interview. "What a difference an election makes."
"The Illinois AFL-CIO and our 855,000 members were up against a full-frontal assault by the former governor," Carrigan said. "Those four years were had battles every week, practically every day. But we mobilized, we worked very hard."
In the 2018 election, he said, "We had a good day. And then we pivoted and transitioned and took that political win and political power and turned it into a legislative agenda. Fortunately, it pretty much mimicked many of the things new (Democratic) Gov. J.B. PRITZKER was wanting to do."
Among the things Prizker did, with a solidly Democratic legislature, was enact a $15 minimum wage by 2025, approve more casinos for the state and legalize adult-use of marijuana, along with a $45 billion infrastructure plan and a proposed constitutional amendment -- to be voted on by the public in November 2020 -- in hopes of implementing a progressive income tax structure in Illinois.
"Obviously, labor is delighted over the results," of the legislative session, Carrigan said.
"But our struggle, our work is never done," he said. "We have to continue to mobilize. We have to take it into 2020," including pushing for passage of what he and Pritzker call the "fair tax," but that opponents call a "blank check" for lawmakers to raise more taxes in the future.
With retirees and other union groups the AFL-CIO partners with on projects, Carrigan said, more than a million people are considered part of the movement. Counting people in union households, he said, brings that "easily" to 2 million.
While advances in the state need to be held, he said, the Illinois union groups will also do what they can to defeat GOP President DONALD TRUMP next year.
"It's imperative that we change the person that's in the White House," he said.
Carrigan was born in Kankakee, and grew up in Bradley, in Kankakee County. He's a graduate of MacMurray College in Jacksonville, and then through a four-year apprenticeship in Decatur, he became a journeyman wireman -- installing wiring at construction sites from nuclear plants to fast-food restaurants -- and later was business manager/financial secretary for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 146. He was elected to Decatur City Council in 1995 and stayed on the council until he was appointed mayor in July 2008 to serve out a term of a retiring mayor. He served for eight months, leaving in the spring of 2009. He never ran for mayor, he noted, as being AFL-CIO president was "a full-time job plus."
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Drea graduated from Taylorville High and joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving three years including one in Okinawa. He then worked as a union miner at the now-closed Peabody Coal Mine No. 10 in Pawnee for 11 years. His father had also been a miner.
"I got very involved in the political end of clean air legislation, trying to put scrubbers on power plants," he said. He was laid off in 1990, and went to Lincoln Land Community College and what is now the University of Illinois Springfield, getting a political studies degree. He joined the Senate Democratic staff, and said late Sens. PENNY SEVERNS of Decatur and VINCE DEMUZIO of Carlinville were both mentors. In 1996, he became legislative and political director of Local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers. He's been secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO since April 2007.
Carrigan says Drea "has worked extremely hard as secretary-treasurer and he's been right there in all the issues and all the battles." He said it's up to the board, but he predicts Drea will become president.
Drea lauded Carrigan's "steady hand" that "led the federation through some difficult times."
"He's mentored me," Drea said. "He's taught me a lot." Drea said he will be talking to board members about possibly moving up after Carrigan retires, and he would be "honored and privileged" to do so.
"We have a bright future," Drea said. "All of labor has accomplished a lot working together. And I look forward to continuing the legacy that he (Carrigan) has put together and moving forward and gaining more for working men and women."
Condolences and best wishes to Circuit Judge JOHN BELZ and to former Sangamon County GOP Chairman TONY LIBRI on the loss of their mothers.
JOAN MARY "FRITZIE" BELZ died at her Springfield home on Aug. 23. She was 87, and a mother of four, grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of seven. She was described as matriarch of the family and a community volunteer who had many friends.
ANN M. LIBRI of Springfield died Aug. 25. She was 93, the mother of two, grandmother of five, and great-grandmother of nine. She truly enjoyed life and adored playing with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, her obituary said.
Condolences also to the family of ART SANTINI of Springfield, a decorated Army veteran of World War II who died Aug. 24 at Regency Nursing Home. He was 95.
Santini, who is survived by his wife of 72 years, PAULINE, and their children and grandchildren, was known in political circles for seeking offices including Springfield streets commissioner and, after the change in the city's form of government, for alderman. He also ran for Sangamon County Board.