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Chicago is the birthplace of America’s labor movement. Yet, across the nation — and more recently at home in Illinois — we’ve seen policies seep into the mainstream that undercut unions and redirect the flow of wealth from hard-working middle class families to those at the very top. Fortunately, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) continues to support union members — comprising nearly half of our overall workforce — and provide secure, good-paying jobs to hundreds of women and men working to support their families and communities. I’m proud to stand up for labor and will continue working alongside unions to ensure that the MWRD creates and protects jobs, provides fair wages, and ensures the safety and wellbeing of its workers.
Supporting labor is the right thing to do, but it also makes economic sense. Workers are the bedrock of society; if we devalue our workers, the economy stagnates and everybody loses. Last year, Frank Manzo (Policy Director at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute) and Professor Robert Bruno (Director of the Labor Education Program and the Program for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) issued a report funded by the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Sierra Club Illinois called A Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and Illinois. In it, Manzo and Bruno found that operations and construction expenditures by the MWRD saved or created 13,200 total jobs in 2014, including 7,400 direct construction, water, and sewage jobs, and boosted the regional economy by $1.3 billion. Their study revealed “the average blue-collar construction worker in water infrastructure adds $162.92 per hour to the Illinois’ gross domestic product.” That’s a lot of value added, which our state sorely needs. If there’s one major takeaway from Manzo and Bruno’s report, it’s this: keeping our state’s economy flowing means it’s imperative that we invest in water and wastewater infrastructure projects and — more importantly — in the union workers who make those projects possible.