Matejka Second Consecutive NIOTBN Leader to Receive Peace Prize

The Pantagraph

Mike Matejka and wife Kari Sandhaas. Photo by Archana Shekara

Mike Matejka and wife Kari Sandhaas. Photo by Archana Shekara

A labor official involved in anti-discrimination efforts and other community activities has been named this year's recipient of Illinois State University's Grabill-Homan Peace Prize.

Mike Matejka of Normal, governmental affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, was recognized for his work with Not in Our Town: Bloomington-Normal.

The 1974 ISU graduate also is a member of the Normal Planning Commission and former member of the Bloomington City Council. He serves on the boards or committees of the Autism Friendly Community, Easterseals, McLean County Museum of History, the Illinois Labor History Society, the Children's Christmas Party for Unemployed Families and Secretary of State Jesse White's “Life Goes On” organ donation effort.

He also is a member of the Humanitarian and Social Aspects Committee of the town of Normal's 2040 Planning Commission. He was a founding member of the Central Illinois Food Bank.

Noha Shawki, director of Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies at ISU, said Matejka “has impressed me with his empathy, his compassion, his leadership and his commitment to peacemaking and to community service.”

The award was presented Monday at ISU's Alumni Center. First given in 2011, the annual prize goes to a member of the Bloomington-Normal community who has demonstrated commitment to community peace and justice activities.

Previous recipients have been former Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal Faith and Outreach Committee Chair Kelley Becker, Mary Campbell, Tina Sipula, Rick Heiser, Barbara Stuart, and Deborah Halperin.

The peace prize is named in honor of history professors Joseph Grabill and Gerlof Homan, co-founders of the Peace Studies Program at ISU.

Women's Empowerment Wednesday Lecture at IWU

The lecture "Women's Empowerment is Smart Economics" will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Illinois Wesleyan University's Hansen Student Center.

Through a gift from President Eckley, IWU's Economics Department is able to invite a distinguished member from the economics profession to deliver a lecture every year at the university. This year, Professor Yana van der Meulen Rodgers of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University will discuss women's empowerment in the labor market and the consequent benefits to their families and economies as a whole.

"In the era of smart phones and smart cars, empowering women can be a 'gender-smart' way to achieve economy-wide gains," Rodgers argues.

Rodgers earned her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, and her interests include the impact of public policy and labor laws on women's employment and wages; how ownership rights and access to resources for women can not only improve their children's welfare but also reduce their household poverty level; the consequence of international trade on gender wage gaps; and how gender disparity, growth, and development are all interconnected, just to name a few.

Much of her research has focused on East and South Asian Economies and she has consulted for the Asian Development Bank and The World Bank.

Nuns on The Bus: Heal Gaps, Heed Immigrant Contributions

The Pantagraph

Sister Simone Campbell has a simple message for the Twin Cities on Tuesday.

"We need Bloomington-Normal (residents) to do their part to help heal the gaps in our nation," she said. "It's our same message at all the towns we go to, because if we all get engaged in it, we can heal."

Campbell is one of 19 sisters on the Nuns on the Bus tour of the the Midwest and Northeast. With a theme of "Mend the Gaps," they will spend more than two weeks asking America to promote family-friendly workplaces, living wages, tax justice, and access to citizenship, democracy, health care and housing.

While the group's agenda mirrors traditionally liberal political priorities, Campbell said the sisters are focused on how to bring people together rather than dividing them.

They started Monday in Madison, Wis., and will travel through Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, New York, the New England states and New Jersey before ending in Pennsylvania. Stops will include small cities like Bloomington and big ones like Cleveland and Philadelphia, where they'll visit the Republican and Democratic national conventions. 

"What I'm hoping is we can see similarities in what worries ... and gives hope to Republicans and Democrats so we can begin to speak of where we meet," said Campbell, who organized Nuns on the Bus and is executive director of Network-Advocates for Justice Inspired by Catholic Sisters.

About 75 people came to YWCA McLean County in Bloomington for the afternoon stop.

Attendees heard speeches from the sisters and got the chance to pledge their support and sign the bus. Many chanted "mend the gaps" during a group photo.

The sisters also visited Unitarian/Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal on Tuesday evening.

This is their fifth annual bus tour; they visited Illinois State University’s Alumni Center and New Covenant Community, both in Normal, in 2013.

"We're big fans of Sister Simone," said Margaret Rutter of Normal, who attended the YWCA event with other New Covenant members.

Rutter spoke of the need for respecting immigrants: "It's terrible how many people have lived here for many years doing horrible jobs and paying taxes and we won't let be citizens."

Policy priorities for the sisters include tax reform that makes "corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share"; "significant minimum wage increases"; "paid family leave and paycheck fairness for woman"; "congressional districts that are fairly and accurately drawn"; universal health care; and "a just and inclusive federal housing policy."

"We have a torn fabric in our society with all the name-calling, the violence, the fear. ... We're better than that," Campbell said. "This is about the divides that have grown in our whole nation, and that's why we're on the road."

History Makers Gala to Salute Champions of Rights, Reform

Mike Matejka

WJBC Forum

In two weeks, the McLean County Museum of History is hosting its fifth History Makers Gala, June 16 at Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center.  This is always a great event and a homage to outstanding individuals who have enriched our community.  This year’s honorees include famed ISU basketball coach Jill Hutchinson, recently retired pastor from St. Mary’s Church, Father Rick Schneider, former State Representative Gordon Ropp and lawyer, Presbyterian minister and activist Jack Porter.

Of the four, the two I’ve spent the most time with are perhaps the most opposite politically, Gordon Ropp and Jack Porter.   Gordon is a strong Republican, Jack is a very liberal Democrat.   When Gordon was in the State House, even though he voted against many issues I supported, I knew he would always carefully listen and ask strong questions, but he never cut off a reply.  We also worked together on vocational education issues and when a series of our Bloomington union Laborers were killed in construction work zones in the late 1970s, Gordon helped open doors with Laborers 362’s John Penn to establish the Work Zone Safety committee at the Illinois Department of Transportation.  This on-going effort has led to legislation and had a positive impact on motorists and workers in highway construction zones.

I’ve known Jack Porter since I was an ISU student in the early 1970s.    In my first acquaintance, we worked together to help support Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union.   Jack has far-reaching interests, but always grounded himself locally.   When local housing was still discriminatory, Jack worked to break those barriers; later, as an attorney at Prairie State Legal Services, fair and safe housing was a prime concern.   Jack can be very serious and thoughtful, but he also takes an impish delight in rattling local politics, particularly over issues of civil rights. Jack first came to Bloomington as a Presbyterian minister to serve Western Avenue Community Center in the early 1960s.   The daily lives and challenges of west-side working and low-income families always found welcome support from him.    Treating all people, no matter their status, with dignity and compassion has been his life-long motivation.

Although Gordon and Jack might differ significantly in their politics, one thing they share is a passion for their community.   And there’s a lesson here – we can agree or disagree on many issues, but we always need to remember we are dealing with another human being, who also has deep feelings and concerns.   That basic mutual recognition is what makes a community livable, and both Jack Porter and Gordon Ropp have helped make this a better place.  I hope you’ll join me on June 16 to honor them, along with Jill Hutchinson and Fr. Rick.

Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Normal. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society.

Legacy Wall to Highlight LGBT History, Legacy

The Legacy Wall, a traveling interactive LGBT history exhibit, will be on display on the main floor of Illinois State University’s Milner Library February 15-27. The free exhibit was created by the Legacy Project, a Chicago-based non-profit dedicated to recognizing the contributions LGBT individuals have made to world history and culture.

The large Legacy Wall exhibit features stories of LGBT people from all walks of life throughout history who have made great contributions in more than 20 distinct fields. Featured individuals include social justice pioneer Jane Addams; civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin; British mathematician Alan Turing; U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan; astronaut Sally Ride; artist Michelangelo; and the Rev. Mychal Judge, the “Saint of 9/11.” In addition to historical content, the exhibit also highlights the challenges faced by LGBT youth and includes data on the effectiveness of including LGBT-related content in general education for substantially lowering the incidence of bullying in schools.

Speakers on the Illinois State campus during February will present on related topics. Carlos Figueroa of Ithaca College will speak about his latest book in the presentation “Bayard Rustin: Black Gay Quaker Thinker and Civil Rights and Labor Activist,” at 7 p.m. Monday, February 15, in the Prairie Room of the Bone Student Center.

Librarian Bill Kemp from the McLean County Museum of History will present “Woman in Blue: Union Army Private Albert D.J. Cashier of Illinois” at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 18, on the main floor of Milner Library. The talk will cover the life of transgender Civil War veteran Albert Cashier.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, February 25, Barb Dallinger will interview Windy City Times publisher and executive editor Tracy Baim about her new book, Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer. Baim will also speak about founding the alternative paper, Windy City Times, and how she became interested in LGBT historical figures, including several who are included on the Legacy Wall. That event will be held on the main floor of Milner Library.

The Legacy Wall exhibit is endorsed by the Illinois Secretary of State, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the Illinois Department of Tourism, the Illinois Municipal Relations Association, and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

The display of the Legacy Wall at Illinois State University is co-sponsored by the Prairie Pride Coalition and Milner Library.

Mitsubishi Worker Hailed for Scout Work

Roberto Avina, a United Auto Workers 2488 member and employee of Mitsubishi Motors, exemplified the 2015 Labor Day theme, “For More Than Ourselves.”  Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal celebrate the diversity and contributions of unions and workers during Monday's Bloomington Labor Day Parade.

NIOT:B/N at the Labor Day Parade.

NIOT:B/N at the Labor Day Parade.

Avina, a Mexican immigrant and now-U.S. citizen, was recently awarded the Boy Scouts of America George Meany Award for the local W.D.Boyce Council, at the McLean County Museum of History on August 15. The Meany Award is annually given to an adult scout leader from union ranks.  

Avina is also the 2015 WJBC-AM "Laborer of the Year."

Avina is a line worker at Mitsubishi with 10 years of scouting service

Bloomington Labor Day Parade Sept. 7, Emphasizes Community Service

The theme for the 2015 Bloomington Labor Day Parade is "For more than ourselves," emphasizing community service and involvement.

The parade marches on Monday, September 7 at 10 a.m., line up at 9 a.m. on Front Street in Downtown Bloomington.  The parade will proceed west on Front Street to Lee Street, south on Lee Street to Wood Street, and then west on Wood Street to Miller Park.

"The parade theme reflects our close community ties," said Trades & Labor President Ronn Morehead.  "All of our unions, through donated labor, volunteering and donations, support local charities, and community organizations.  We want those community organizations to be the center of this year's parade, with Labor's contributions to them."

The parade features union marching units, high school bands, construction equipment, community organizations, antique cars, and elected officials and aspirants for political office. Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal is scheduled to participate.

The local labor community has been a key catalyst in driving diversity and cultural growth. World War II brought unexpected changes to the Twin Cities workplace -- women and African-Americans in the factory. Williams began hiring women as military draft depleting the workforce, Williams losing 383 employees to the armed forces. Williams initially hired 56 women in early 1943, using training films to acquaint them with plant processes.

The other group hired was African-American workers. Although the new female hires joined Machinists Lodge 1000, the African American workers were not allowed to participate in the union. They were kept segregated from the rest of the workforce, doing mainly hand filing and finishing work, and only worked on defense contracts.

A. Phillip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters president, had successfully lobbied President Roosevelt in 1941 to end discriminatory hiring practices. Roosevelt issued an executive order against racial discrimination in war contracts. Ruth Waddell, who worked at Williams during the war, remembered that "some people had problems with us being there," but she and other African-American workers enjoyed the higher pay and an opportunity to do work usually denied to them. As soon as the war contract work ended, though, the African-American workers were laid off.


Black History Month 2: Righting the Rails

Camille Taylor

 Emanuel Hurst Sr., Art Taylor's grandfather and a Pullman porter, 1942-1968.

 Emanuel Hurst Sr., Art Taylor's grandfather and a Pullman porter, 1942-1968.

How are unions, black history, and the current debate over state workers and labor rights related?

Both my husband Art and I had grandfathers who worked for the railroad. My husband’s grandfather was a Pullman porter from 1942 to 1968. All Pullman porters were black, referred to as “George,” (after founder George Pullman), and worked as personal attendants for passengers in the Pullman sleeper cars. My grandfather was a Sky Cap, carrying passengers’ luggage for the Illinois Central Railroad.

Asa Phillip Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. It took 12 years, an amended Railroad Labor Act from President Franklin Roosevelt, and gaining membership in the American Federation of Labor, before the Pullman Company would negotiate the first contract with the porters. During those 12 years, the company used its power and money to perpetrate fear by firings and violence to deter organizing efforts. Their union fought to get a fair wage, benefits, and better working conditions.

As a result of the contract, wages for porters increased, their work week was shortened, and they got overtime pay. The lives of our parents improved due to increased wages for our grandfathers. Education and the value of hard work was stressed, and this was passed on to me and my husband.

A. Phillip Randolph was the mastermind behind the March on Washington Movement in the 1940’s that sought to end discrimination in the military, war industries, government agencies, and in labor unions. He also organized the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 where Dr. Martin Luther King made his “I Have a Dream" speech.

Camille Taylor, for many years an educational leader in Bloomington, serves on the Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal steering committee, with her husband Art, who works with State Farm.

For a history of the Pullman porters and their struggle, watch this video on The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, whose mission is to promote, honor and celebrate the legacy of A. Philip Randolph and contributions made by African-Americans to America's labor history. Visit the museum at 104th & Maryland Ave., Chicago, and find out more at