Sending a union member to Springfield is a unique opportunity in the upcoming November 8 election for the Illinois 91st District.
Bloomington resident Sharon Chung, an American Federation of Musicians Local 301 member, is a first time candidate for the State House. She currently is serving her first term on the McLean County board.
The redrawn 91st district stretches from Bloomington-Normal westward through Carlock to East Peoria and across the river to Bartonville.
“I want to try to help people and give a voice to people who haven’t been heard,” she said.
As a professional musician playing violin and viola, Chung went through her apprenticeship with the Chicago Symphony’s training orchestra while a Master’s degree student. That meat long rehearsals and performance dates at low pay. She played with the Peoria Symphony at a student rate while attending Illinois Wesleyan University. These were eye-opening experiences about the union difference. In the meantime, the Peoria Symphony unionized.
“As a student I was paid a different rate – that was very unfair,” she said. “I put in the same amount of work. With the union, that changed. Everyone was paid fairly.” She noted that with the union musicians are paid overtime, there is a grievance procedure and during COVID, there were union enforced safety protocols. Besides the Peoria Symphony there are also call-out for various shows coming through the area.
COVID decimated her career as public performances were curtailed. “COVID did a real number on all the performing arts. On March 13, 2020, I lost thousands of dollars of work.” To continue performing she set up lawn and driveway concerts where people could come listen with proper social distance and leave a tip in the jar. “We could express ourselves musically when there was little hope and joy.” She said losing her musical experiences was “like cutting off a limb.”
An Illinois Wesleyan University graduate, Sharon’s and her musician husband Jeremy Brunk made Bloomington home, since he was teaching at Decatur’s Milliken University. This put them within an hour’s circle for performance opportunities in Champaign, Decatur, Peoria and Bloomington. They have two daughters.
With her eyes on the State House, Sharon said “I really enjoy speaking up for the things I believe in, speaking up for those whose voices aren’t heard. As a musician I feel I do a good job of expressing myself. I feel I can do the same with words – it’s a different mode of expression.”
She is very edified by the union apprenticeship opportunities in central Illinois. “We have all these unique training facilities. People can gain good, honest work with decent wages. This is great for our region and I’d like to see what we can do to expand these opportunities.”
She is strong advocating for the Workers’ Right Amendment’s passage this fall. “I’m a life-long Illinoisan and I would be really proud to see that in our state constitution.” Other issues she is concerned about include workers’ right and decent jobs, women’s rights and climate change. If elected she would be the first Asian legislator outside of Chicago, the first Korean-American in the state legislature.
Chung is endorsed by the Illinois AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, United Auto Workers, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Education Association and the Laborers International Union of North America’s Midwest Region, Great Plains Laborers District Council and Local 362.
If elected a state representative, Sharon promises she’ll be an advocate for working families, a compassionate ally for the marginalized, and a tireless fighter for the residents of the 91st District.