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The Janus v. AFSCME case is Gov. Bruce Rauner’s latest attempt to take away the freedom of working people to join together in a strong union.

The union gives me and my fellow AFSCME members in the Illinois Department of Corrections a voice in a very dangerous job.

Through the union, we advocate for the staff we need to end mandatory overtime, operate safe facilities and rehabilitate inmates.

Through our union, we can get continuing education and climb the career ladder. Through our union, we have programs to help deal with the constant stress and hyper-vigilance of working in a prison, where all of us going home safe is a good day. The life expectancy of a 20-year correctional officer is only 59 years old. Over the years, I’ve seen many coworkers die young, never getting the chance to enjoy retirement after a long career behind the walls.

Through the union, we have a contract that pays a living wage with fair benefits, so in Illinois, Corrections has well-trained, professional staff, not a low-wage, revolving door workforce like in Missouri or Wisconsin. We deal with the individuals nobody else wants to, in a toxic, negative environment that takes a major toll on the body, mind and soul. It’s reasonable to ask for a decent wage, insurance and a modest retirement.

We won’t let Rauner and the Illinois Policy Institute divide us. Regardless of the Janus outcome, AFSCME members will remain strong and still fight for adequate staffing, workplace safety, effective programs, and for doing what’s right.

Steve Howerter

Cuba, Illinois

Editor's note: Howerter is employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections