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A year of progress for Chicago labor honors 125th anniversary of the Pullman Strike

Legislative changes will boost wages, strengthen worker protections and put more people to work — regardless of whether they are union members or not.

Workers for Pullman Company, makers of the famous railroad sleeper cars, leave work on an afternoon in 1894. A workers’ strike at Pullman, from May 11 to July 20, 1894, created nationwide rail service stoppages and became a turning point for U.S. labor la
Workers for Pullman Company, makers of the famous railroad sleeper cars, leave work on an afternoon in 1894. A workers’ strike at Pullman, from May 11 to July 20, 1894, created nationwide rail service stoppages and became a turning point for U.S. labor law.

The Labor Day season is always exciting here in Chicago, the hometown of the American labor movement. This Labor Day is especially meaningful as it is the 125th anniversary of the Pullman Strike, the event that led to the creation of Labor Day as we know it.

Back then, workers recognized the collective power that could be unleashed by standing together in solidarity and fighting for better wages, dignity and respect on the job. Though the shape of the fight has shifted over the last 125 years, the basic bonds that connect working people have never strained, and still sustain our movement today.

The past year has been especially successful for the Chicago Federation of Labor and the entire Chicagoland labor movement as unions continue to fight for all working people. Significant victories include working with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to pass the Fair Workweek Ordinance in Chicago, the most expansive predictive scheduling law in the country; the creation of the Office of Labor Standards to enforce Chicago’s labor laws; an increase in the state minimum wage to $15 an hour; the addition of the Fair Tax to the 2020 ballot; banning local so-called “right-to-work” zones in Illinois; and the passage of the desperately needed $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan.

These legislative changes will boost wages, strengthen worker protections and put more people to work — regardless of whether they are union members or not. We are honored to share in these victories with our labor and community allies as we continue to fight for all working families.

The Chicago area labor movement was also successful in its effort to elect J.B. Pritzker as governor of Illinois, replacing the virulently anti-union Bruce Rauner. The Chicago Federation of Labor and its affiliates mobilized its members and their communities, ending four years of non-stop union bashing from the governor’s office. I am especially proud to share in that victory with the millions of Illinoisans who demanded change, and I am truly hopeful that Rauner was Illinois’ final failed experiment with anti-union leadership.

Pritzker has repeatedly sided with working people since taking office, returning our state to stability and beginning to repair the damage Rauner did during his shameful tenure.

Beyond City Hall and the State Capitol, I am encouraged to see growth in the relationships the CFL has with its community allies. One of the most successful programs has been Access United, a partnership among the CFL, United Way of Metro Chicago, Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, Construction Industry Service Corporation (CISCO), and other community partners to help those from Chicago’s South and West sides enter and succeed in union apprenticeship programs. The Chicagoland labor movement fights on behalf of workers regardless of race, gender, sexuality, class or immigration status, and we are committed to making Chicago a place where all working people can build a better life.

Finally, I am excited for the year ahead of us. Though we have made great strides in our city, county and state, significant challenges remain. I am confident the Chicago area labor movement will play a critical role in meeting these challenges while growing our movement and fighting for economic justice.

Together, we will carry on the legacy of the Pullman strikers and ensure Chicago remains the strongest labor city in the country.

Bob Reiter is president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. The CFL has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

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