MELROSE PARK, Ill. - "We need to elect leaders that are friendly to labor and understand that what we need is more jobs, because without jobs, this country can't operate," said Ralph Porter, longtime Navistar worker.
Porter, African American member with the UAW Local 6, has been an engine repairman for 42 years at the Navistar International Corporation plant located here in a suburb just west of Chicago. He was joined by hundreds of his union sisters and brothers, Oct. 29, at the plant in one of labor's final get-out-the-vote rallies before the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
Standing nearby was Sheryl Green who has worked at Navistar in management for three years. "We got to bring our manufacturing base back," she said. "We're losing too many jobs especially here in Illinois." She said outsourcing good jobs is part of the problem. "What we need are good paying jobs, not just retail jobs."
Iris Howard, who has worked for Navistar for over six-years interrupted Green saying, "What we need is good paying union jobs." Howard is originally from Ohio and moved to Melrose Park three years ago. We need to bring back good union jobs to Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, she said. "Too many people don't know the importance of the labor movement in this country when it comes to workers' rights."
Local, Cook County and state-level elected officials joined AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in saluting Navistar and UAW workers. They also congratulated Democrat and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn for his role in helping the company retain or create nearly 3,000 jobs this year along with more than 600 construction jobs.
Quinn faces GOP opponent Bill Brady in a heated election campaign. Those at the rally indicated that what Illinoisans need is someone like Quinn who will support the labor movement and fight for good paying jobs.
"Gov. Quinn is a true friend of working people and his top priority is jobs," said Trumka. Navistar is one great example for all Illinoisans to celebrate, he added. Trumka said good jobs like those at Navistar are needed in order to continue rebuilding the economy and reinvesting in the nations infrastructure that ultimately puts people back to work.
Quinn also addressed the crowd. "You know," he said. "My favorite words are 'made in America.' And that's what it's all about. We have the best workers on planet Earth." During the recession Illinois had nine consecutive months of declining jobs, said Quinn. "But what are we going to do? Give up?" Quinn added Illinois needs good jobs. "And we're going to get them come hell or high water because that's what hard working people in this great state deserve," he said.
Many of the workers said they are eager to vote Tuesday and plan to encourage their friends and family to take this election seriously.
Henry Hemingway, 31, has been working for Navistar for 10 years and said he intends to vote for candidates who promote more funding for education and those that address curbing the violence on our streets. Communities need to come together and we could use more youth centers for young people, he said. "And I think Gov. Quinn is doing a hell of a job," he added.
Others who spoke to this reporter said job security is the top priority. Also important are fighting for the rights of children with disabilities, homeowner rights, as well as support for senior citizens, the homeless and veterans, they note.
"This election is about the direction of our country, moving forward and building an economy that works for everyone," said Trumka. He added that it's important for union households to cast their votes and support Gov. Quinn and Democratic candidate for U.S. senate, Alexi Giannoulias, both backed by the labor movement. "If you want someone to fight for good union jobs, someone who will protect your Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and other important services, then Quinn and Giannoulias are the right choice," he said.
Navistar officials announced they plan to invest up to $90 million at the Melrose plant over the next several years. The facility has been part of the company's history for nearly 65 years. Built in 1941, the Melrose Park plant originally was operated by Buick to build engines for the B-24 Liberator bomber used during World War II.
Navistar produces leading-edge commercial and military trucks, school buses and commercial buses, recreational vehicles and diesel engines for the pickup truck, van and SUV markets.
A portion of the campus will be dedicated to creating the next generation of commercial trucks and buses, including hybrid and electric vehicles, state-of-the-art emissions controls and the latest in diesel engine technology.
Photo: Enthusiastic UAW members at get-out-the-vote rally at the Navistar plant, Oct. 29. Pepe Lozano/PW