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February 2018

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Illinois Member Jumps into Political Arena
Ready to Fight for the Middle Class

West Frankfort, Ill., Local 702 Business Manager Steve Hughart learned recently that a 96-year-old widow of a retired IBEW member was having trouble accessing her late husband's benefits. Business agent Jason Woolard didn't just help her secure those benefits; he went to her home and spent several hours helping get her finances in order.

That's a big reason why he'll make an excellent member of the Illinois House of Representatives, his boss said. Woolard is the only announced Democratic candidate for the 117th District seat in the far southern part of the state and will face a first-term Republican in November.

"Jason has a handle not just on what is important to the IBEW, but to all working men and women," Hughart said. "There is not another person on earth better equipped to do this job."

Woolard is a journeyman lineman who was born and raised in southern Illinois. He served eight years on the Carterville, Ill., school board and was a steward before joining Local 702's staff. In addition to serving as a business agent, he is president of the Southern Illinois Central Labor Council. His father, Larry Woolard, was a member of the Illinois Legislature for 14 years.

"I talked to my family, and my two daughters said, 'I can't believe it took you this long to do this,'" said Woolard, who turned 46 on Jan. 2.

He was convinced to run when he saw how little current representative Dave Severin supported the interests of working families. Instead, Severin has sided with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a multimillionaire who has urged Illinois to become a right-to-work state and has made attacks on unions a focal point of his tenure.

"It just became more and more common to hear someone say, 'Why don't you get involved?'" Woolard said. "We have a lot of politicians in Springfield [the state capital] that don't understand the needs of working families."

Woolard said he was especially disappointed when Severin sided with Rauner on a proposal that would have privatized nursing services within Illinois' correctional system. The move would have led to the layoff of 124 union-represented nurses, many based in southern Illinois. Layoff notices were given, but later rescinded.

Woolard said Severin also sided with Rauner against legislation that would have provided an estimated $5 million in increased funding to schools in the 117th District. He'll oppose any measure that forces working families and small businesses to pay more than their fair share to fix Illinois' ongoing budget problems.

"The people in southern Illinois can't afford to pay any more taxes," he said. "I am going to fight tooth and nail every day of my life to make sure we have elected officials who are working to create a fair tax system that does not put an additional burden on middle-class families."


West Frankfort, Ill., Local 702 member Jason Woolard

Organizer Spotlights Workers' Rights in
Run for Arkansas Statehouse

An IBEW local organizer is running for an Arkansas House seat with the ambitious goal of overturning the state's anti-union right-to-work law.

"I'm going to focus on that heavily," said Donald McKinney, a journeyman inside wireman who joined the Fort Smith, Ark., Local 700 staff as an organizer last year. "States with right-to-work have a higher poverty level, lower average income level, and more safety issues — more deaths and injuries on the job."

Arkansas was the first right-to-work state — now there are 28 — with voters passing a constitutional amendment in 1944. The laws, which allow workers to reap the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without contributing to its cost, weaken unions and the ability of workers to bargain fair wages and benefits and protect their health and safety on the job.

McKinney, 41, is running as a Democrat for House District 81, a seat currently held by a first-term Republican. So far, he has no opponent for the May 2018 primary. The general election is Nov. 6.

A married father of four, he served in the Arkansas National Guard for 21 years, retiring in 2016. He's also second-generation IBEW: His father is Tenth District International Representative Charles McKinney, who joined the union in 1996 when he organized electricians at the small contracting company where he was project manager.

His son started mulling a run for office after the November 2016 election. "I was thinking justice of the peace or the school board, just to get my toe in," he said. Six months later, a chat with an AFL-CIO political staffer led to a meeting with the Arkansas chair of the Democratic Party, who urged him to run for the statehouse.

In addition to workers' rights, wages and safety and issues affecting active and retired service members are high on McKinney's list of priorities. He also wants to expand vocational training that prepares workers for good, family-wage jobs, and he believes teachers need a raise.

"Teachers' pay in the public school system is ridiculously low," he said. "I went to trade school and make twice as much as teachers who went to college and spent thousands and thousands of dollars on their education."

As he hits the campaign trail, he is talking about those issues and more, particularly right-to-work — a subject some Democrats running for office try to duck. "He's very outspoken about it," said Local 700 Business Manager Eugene Wilson, who met McKinney when they were both IBEW apprentices. "I believe he's going to be a strong candidate."

And his skills as an organizer will come in especially handy.

"I'm approaching this campaign, just like I would approach an organizing campaign," McKinney said. "Door-to-door, face-to-face, explain what my goals are, find out what their goals are and basically try to meet in the middle."


Fort Smith, Ark., Local 700 member Donald McKinnney