By CARL GREEN
Rock fans may remember the Edgar Winter Group, which had a hit song called “Free Ride” back in the ‘70s.
It’s apparently the new theme song of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who wants non-union public employees to benefit from union contracts without having to pay for representation.
“Come on and take a free ride,” says the song. “Come on and take it by my side. Come on and take a free ride.”
Pretty good song – pretty bad policy.
And it may never actually be enacted because, while Rauner may think he’s king, he is limited by the separation of power between the executive and the Democratic-run legislature.
Rauner’s ongoing assault on labor targeted public employee unions Feb. 9 when he issued an executive order to prevent them from receiving fair-share payments from non-members who benefit from union contracts.
He had already attacked trades and construction unions by proposing local right-to-work zones and opposing prevailing wage laws and Labor Contract Agreements.
This time, Rauner claimed that fair-share payments violate the First Amendment, in that unions contribute to political candidates, although the unions don’t use the fair-share money for contributions, only for negotiations.
State law allows fair share payments because public employee unions are required to represent all of the workers in a collective bargaining unit, not just those who join the union and pay dues.
Rauner says that’s unfair. “An employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree,” he said. “That is a clear violation of First Amendment rights – and something that, as governor, I am duty-bound to correct.”
Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said Rauner’s concern about the First Amendment is really an attempt to weaken the unions in representing public employees.
“Child protection workers, caregivers for veterans and the disabled, correctional officers and everyone else employed by state government have a right to a voice at work and in the democratic process through their unions,” she said. “Bruce Rauner’s scheme to strip the rights of state workers and weaken their unions by executive order is a blatantly illegal abuse of power. Perhaps as a private equity CEO, Rauner was accustomed to ignoring legal and ethical standards, but Illinois is still a democracy and its laws have meaning.
“It is crystal clear by this action that the governor’s supposed concern for balancing the state budget is a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: Silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class.
“Our union and all organized labor will stand together with those who believe in democracy to overturn Bruce Rauner’s illegal action and restore the integrity of the rule of law.”
Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education Association, reminded Illinoisans that Rauner’s proposal would diminish one of the last counter-weights to the influence of corporate money in Illinois politics.
“The governor is wrong when he says that the problems in our state from teachers and other middle-class public workers having too much say in how Illinois is run,” Klickna said.
“The opposite is true. With corporate interests spending unheard-of sums in politics, the need for a strong voice for the middle class has never been greater.”
Rauner isn’t likely to get his fair-share proposal through the Illinois Legislature, so he is trying to get around that by going to court. He said he has hired a legal team to seek a declaratory judgment in federal court in Chicago to rule fair-share unconstitutional.
WOOING THE BASE
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, suggested in an interview that what Rauner is really doing to trying to build credibility and support with the diehard, anti-union Republican faithful.
“He would never get this through the Legislature, so it raises a lot of questions about why he is wasting his political capital on this and making enemies,” Yepsen said. “So I suspect he is showing his base he is trying to do something.”
Yepsen is probably right. But the song “Free Ride” has another lyric that unfortunately applies.
It states, “You’re confused about which way to go, so I flew here to give you a hand and lead you into the Promised Land!”
Gov. Rauner is leading us on, all right, but this promised land is no place for workers, the middle-class and the poor. Millionaires and billionaires can expect to do all right – taking a “free ride” with lower taxes and government handouts.