In an effort to unseat Gov. Bruce Rauner and other Republican politicians in the Midwest, the union behind the Fight for $15 campaign is launching a voter engagement drive to mobilize its members to get people to the polls.
The Service Employees International Union and its Fight for $15 campaign plan to launch the initiative at a Labor Day rally in Chicago. The rally, one of several across the country, will include a march on the American Hospital Association to highlight hospital workers, who are new to the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and are expected to play a key role in the voter drive.
Over the 14 months leading up to the fall 2018 election, SEIU members and workers participating in the wage campaign will pledge to volunteer 40 hours of their time to reach out to disengaged voters and encourage them to turn out for candidates who support union priorities such as a $15 minimum wage and universal health care.
"We're going to take our case to people who have given up and don't show up on Election Day because no one is giving them a reason to stand in line and vote," said Scott Courtney, executive vice president at SEIU. "And we're going to engage them in organizing at their workplace and in their communities."
Unions have cast Rauner as anti-worker because of his pro-business "turnaround agenda," which includes toughening standards for receiving workers' compensation.
SEIU plans to roll out the voter initiative across a dozen battleground states mostly in the Midwest, including Illinois and Michigan, as well as Florida, Colorado and Nevada. Paid canvassers as well as "tens of thousands" of SEIU and Fight for $15 members are expected to participate. There are 150,000 SEIU members in Illinois.
The drive comes as Fight for $15 sets its sights on organizing nonunionized low-wage hospital workers, including dietary aides, nurses' assistants and patient transporters. Since launching its organizing efforts in 2012 with fast-food workers, the campaign has grown to include airport, retail, home health, child care and building service workers, as well as Uber drivers and university instructors.
With health care one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the Illinois, hospitals are "the factories of today's economy," Courtney said.
"Politicians want to talk about manufacturing, but in cities like Chicago, hospitals are the biggest private employers, and 70 percent of service workers there are paid less than $15," he said.
Steve Madlock, who earns about $12 working as a patient transporter at Evanston Hospital, where he moves patients from room to room and helps them in and out of beds, plans to participate in the Labor Day rally.
Madlock, 30, said the wage makes it hard for him to do anything but make ends meet, and he worries how he will afford it when his 3-year-old son grows and his clothes get more expensive.
Madlock was in a union in a previous job with an airline catering company and appreciated being able to hold his employer accountable. In addition to compensation and quality of benefits, he is frustrated that he is sometimes asked to clean equipment covered in bodily fluids, which he says is not supposed to be part of his job.
"They treat their patients well, but I definitely feel that we are underappreciated, we are taken for granted," said Madlock, who commutes by bus and train for an hour and a half each way from his home in Chicago's Lawndale community.
The Labor Day rally in Chicago will start with a strike at a McDonald's in Pilsen and then a march from the Thompson Center to the American Hospital Association. Democratic gubernatorial candidates Sen. Daniel Biss, Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker are expected to attend, as will SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.