CHAMPAIGN -- As many as 5,000 labor union members and supporters crowded into a corner parking lot at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall Thursday to hear union leaders excoriate Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and warn about anti-union legislation in Illinois.
Daniels was scheduled to speak to a Champaign County Republican Party dinner in Champaign Thursday night.
Many of the union members, dressed in bright T-shirts and holding signs condemning Daniels, took large buses to the rally. Thirty buses were lined up in a separate Assembly Hall parking lot.
After a series of speeches by Illinois and Indiana union leaders, the large crowd marched peacefully to a hotel two blocks away where Daniels was to speak. Police set up barricades around the hotel, but permitted people to come and go from the parking lot. The protesters had been told, however, to stay off the hotel property.
Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, noted that two days ago Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had been given a similar greeting by an estimated 3,500 union members in Springfield.
"Doug Whitley of the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce invited Scott Walker and his agenda to Springfield. Shame on you, Doug Whitley, for endorsing Governor Walker and his anti-union agenda," Carrigan said. "So the message from the one million women and men of organized labor in Illinois to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is the same message that we delivered to Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker on Tuesday: we don't want and we don't need your extreme anti-worker, anti-middle class agenda here in Illinois."
Joe Breedlove, secretary-treasurer of the Indiana AFL-CIO, said that "no matter what Mitch Daniels says here tonight, it's nothing more than spin from a political master. Hoosiers did not vote for the agenda he rammed through and Hoosiers are now living with it even though they do not like it."
Breedlove asserted that "our membership is angry," particulary about Daniels' decision to sign a right-to-work bill.
"In fact, of the 125 legislative seats up for election this year, 55 members of organized labor have decided to jump in and run for those seats. It will take some time but we will fix this," he said.
Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, insisted that research shows that right-to-work laws "do not help the economy. They do not grow the ecopnomy. They do not bring business to states. What they do do is they lower the average wage and they hurt working families."
Pat Devaney, a Champaign firefighter who is president of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois, told the crowd that there are lawmakers in Illinois "who want to take away the fruits of your hard labor. They want to take away collective bargaining, they want to take away your health care and they want to strip away your pensions. Are we going to allow them to do that? So how in the hell are they doing this?
"They're doing this because you have people like Mitch Daniels going around, blaming the financial woes of our country and our state not on Wall Street and the corporate greed that got us into this mess in the first place. Do you know who they're blaming? They're blaming you, the hard-working middle class."
Devaney said "we need to tell our elected oficials in Illinois that they need to keep the promise of a fair days pay for a fair days work. They need to keep the promise of affordable health care for our families. And they need to keep the promise of retirement security so we can live in dignity beyond our working years."