|Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride participated in the November 14, 2009 Cherry Mine Disaster centennial, reading a poem written at the time of the disaster.
Expect to hear some really awful things this summer and fall, misleading statements about Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride. Big business interests have targeted Justice Kilbride because he is a workers’ friend. Those corporate interests may spend millions in misleading television and radio ads, asking you to vote against Kilbride’s retention.
We in Illinois get to elect our Supreme Court justices, and Kilbride was elected in 2000 for the Third District seat, which stretches through 21 counties, from the Indiana border to the Mississippi River. This November, Kilbride’s name will be on the ballot for retention.
I have known Tom for over 30 years, beginning when we were both students at Illinois State University in the early 1970s. Tom was born in the Third District, in LaSalle County and then growing up in Kankakee. Both his parents grew up on family farms. The Third District follows I-80 across Illinois, including Peoria, Joliet, Pekin, Macomb, LaSalle, Ottawa, Rock Island and Kankakee.
In 1972, during the McGovern Presidential campaign, Tom was an active ISU McGovern leader. After the Presidential loss, Tom left campus and volunteered full-time in Chicago and California with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW). The UFW paid its staff a subsistence salary, as they organized support for some of the nation’s poorest.
When I transferred to ISU in 1973, I also became active as a farmworker supporter, organizing local pickets and rallies for the impoverished migrant workers and their union aspirations. We all looked up to the tall red-head, Tom Kilbride, for leadership, and admired his idealism. While working his way through college and law school, Tom would return to Kankakee, working as a Laborer with Local 751 and at the A.O. Smith hot water heater plant, where he joined Machinists Lodge 2059.
For three years Tom volunteered with the UFW, helping organize boycott activities, supporting strikes and aiding in the lobby effort for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first law to protect farmworkers’ right to unionization. He then returned to school at St. Mary’s in Winona, Minnesota, where he was not only a campus leader, but also met his future wife, Mary.
Antioch Law School, an institution famous for cultivating socially conscious students, was Tom’s next stop, where he won a coveted internship with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice.
After attending a private college and law school, Tom, like most students, had debts to pay. But he was not seduced by the siren song of corporate law, instead becoming a Legal Aid attorney in Rock Island. Tom never “forgot where he came from” or his values. He and Mary married and settled in Rock Island, raising three daughters and becoming active in the community.
Since serving on the Illinois Supreme Court, Tom has been a consistent voice of reason and fairness for workers. On the court, he has upheld public employees’ rights to mandatory bargaining about their working conditions. He also was in the majority holding up union recognition rights. He dissented in a Workers’ Compensation case on joint venture liability, wanting to insure that all legal facts were thoroughly covered before deciding.
Because he has supported workers’ rights in these rulings, big business interest have painted a target on Justice Tom Kilbride. By law, justices cannot talk about decisions or cases before the electorate. They can only offer themselves as they are.
The Illinois AFL-CIO endorsed Justice Tom Kilbride for retention. Even though he cannot talk about his stances, we can. When the misleading TV and radio ads start running, remind your family and fellow workers who is paying for those ads and the big money represented. Let them know there is a voice on the Illinois Supreme Court, Justice Tom Kilbride, who knows what it’s like to work in a factory, labor on a construction site and organize a union. Then please, vote “yes” for Justice Kilbride’s retention.
Mike Matejka, Great Plains Laborers District Council