“It was the best of times” for conservative billionaires, CEOs and their political lackeys; “it was the worst of times” for working families. “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
With apologies to Charles Dickens, working families are living in the worst of times.
For workers in Missouri and Illinois, the message couldn’t be clearer. Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Republican leadership of the Missouri Legislature are tired of hearing their voices. The constant clambering for fair wages and safe workplaces tends to drown out the polite conversation at their lobbying luncheons, country club and committee meetings. It distracts them from counting the gold coins in their campaign coffers.
Last week, Rauner – who previously served as chairman of R8 Capital Partners and the Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR – fired the first salvo in his promised attack on unions with an executive order intended to end the legal requirement for Illinois state workers who are not members of unions to pay agency or fair share fees to cover the costs to the union of bargaining on their behalf.
Currently, all unionized Illinois state employees must pay an agency fee. According Rauner, 6,500 workers are now paying this fee. He plans to hold their dues in escrow until the courts rule on his executive order.
By signing an executive order, Rauner dodged Democrat-controlled state legislature, which almost certainly would have rejected his proposal.
He also hired a legal team, led by a former federal prosecutor, Dan Webb, to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to make a “declaratory judgment” that his actions are constitutional based on last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn, which found that the Service Employees union (SEIU) could not collect fair share payments from Illinois home health employees because they were not “conventional” employees.
In his State of the State address, given just a few days earlier, Rauner encouraged Illinois’ communities to pass local right-to-work “enterprise zones” so they could race each other to the bottom in their competition for jobs and economic development.
Meanwhile in Missouri, the Show Me State, the Republican leadership seemed intent on showing workers more of the same.
Last week, the Missouri House of Representatives approved its first ever right-to-work bill, sending the legislation to the Senate by a vote of 92-66 – thankfully short of the 109 needed to withstand a likely veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
As legislators were debating the right-to-work, the Workforce Standards and Development Committee was holding hearings in the Capitol basement on two paycheck deception measures, also sponsored by Republicans. The bills would change the current public employee union dues collection system from an “opt-out” program to “opt-in” program, something former House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) gleefully called a step toward right-to-work.
DIFFERENT APPROACHES, SAME INTENT
Whether you live in Missouri or Illinois, these measures are designed to financially cripple unions, draining them of the revenue they need to represent workers, provide training and negotiate contracts, freeing employers to pay less and earn more.
Last week, working families in Missouri and Illinois found themselves face-to-face across the Mississippi River, while corporate interests and their political allies in both states charged up to give them a shove into the river’s muddy depths.
Shame on them.