Gov. Quinn visits Cat picket line, donates $10,000 to strike fund
By Bob Okon email@example.com August 10, 2012 2:26PM
Updated: September 13, 2012 6:16AM
JOLIET — Gov. Pat Quinn gave money and moral support, but no sign he could do anything to help striking Caterpillar workers get back to work when he visited the picket line Friday.
The striking machinists responded enthusiastically to the governor’s visit anyway.
They shook hands, posed for pictures with the governor, and one even asked him to sign the back of her T-shirt.
But hopes that the governor could do something was evident in the words many of the strikers called out to him as he stopped and greeted several hundred who showed up for his visit.
“Talk to corporate,” one worker called out.
“Help us out, will ya?” another said.
As for talking to corporate, Quinn sidestepped questions from a reporter as to whether he would get involved personally in the labor dispute. Quinn did respond quickly when it was suggested that he may have to tread carefully with Caterpillar management given speculation that the company might consider moving its corporate offices out of Peoria someday.
“I don’t have any worry about that,” Quinn said, adding, “The people of Illinois have great skills.”
He went on to relate a story from a recent event in Belvidere, where Chrysler is expanding auto production: “The CEO of that company told me that the reason they are in Illinois is because of the workers of Illinois.”
But Caterpillar workers who have been on strike since May 1 clearly wondered how much their skills were appreciated by the company.
“You’re the best,” Quinn repeatedly told strikers as he shook their hands.
“Cat used to tell us we’re the best,” one called out to him.
“Believe in yourselves,” the governor answered, “and believe that the people of Illinois understand how hard you work.”
Quinn said his reason for coming to the picket line was to show support for the workers. In addition to offering a message of hope, he gave a $10,000 donation from his “Taxpayers for Quinn” campaign fund to the Machinists’ strike fund.
Despite some urging from some strikers that Quinn get involved on their side, they did not seem to expect him to take that stand during the visit.
“I wish he could do more, but Cat won’t listen to him,” said Tim McCants, a 17-year employee of the Joliet plant. McCants said he was “very appreciative” that Quinn showed up. “It shows that the state cares about us,” he said.
A spokesman for Caterpillar said there have been no discussions with the governor about the strike and the company did not think there should be.
“This is a private business matter between two parties; it is not a political matter,” spokesman Rusty Dunn said.
The machinists have been getting messages of support.
Earlier in the week, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., came to the picket line. The next day another union, Service Employees International Union Health Care Illinois and Indiana, arrived with a $25,000 contribution.
“We’re seeing support coming from everywhere,” said Steve Jones, directing business representative for Machinists’ District 8. “We received a letter with a donation from an individual in Singapore who read about our plight online.”
Still, it was evident that what the strikers wanted most was a contract they could accept so they could get back on the job.
Striking worker Jim Olson said when asked how things are going, “I guess they’re going all right if they would get back to the negotiating table.”
As the interview ended, Olson said he wanted to add one more thing: “Everybody out here wants to be back inside working.”