By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – If there was any lingering doubt about how Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner feels about unions, his State of the State speech last week ended it.
Rauner proposed a long list of measures that would damage unions’ ability to represent their members in the workplace and in state government, leading to lower wages and fewer union jobs if enacted.
In Rauner’s ideal Illinois:
- Public employee unions could no longer contribute campaign funds to candidates they support, although corporations could. He calls it “closing special interest loopholes.” (Who is he kidding?)
- Communities could use local right-to-work zones to beat each other over the head in competiIllinois
Gov. Rauner blames it all on workers and unionstion for economic growth, resulting in lower wages and fewer unions.
- The highly effective Project Labor Agreement system, which gets projects done on time and on budget using skilled union labor, would be undercut.
- Prevailing wage laws that protect Illinois’ middle-class workers would be struck down as “uncompetitive bidding,” leaving skilled workers with little to show for their experience and knowledge.
- Worker’s compensation rules would be changed to favor corporations and hurt workers. Workers would also face new limits when they have to sue for damages.
- If those anti-worker measures for worker’s compensation and lawsuits are approved, only then would Rauner agree to raise the minimum wage to a measly $10 an hour over seven years, well below the proposals already placed before the Legislature and those being approved in other states.
At that point, the University of Illinois might as well join the Southeastern Conference, because the state wouldn’t be any different for workers than Alabama or Mississippi.
Fortunately, Illinois workers have a strong supporting team – the Democratic Party majorities in the House and Senate, which are unlikely to approve any of the anti-worker proposals that made up so much of Rauner’s speech.
In reaction to the speech, Rauner opponents noted that he still hasn’t issued specific proposals for what he plans to do. For one thing, he will have to deal with House Speaker Mike Madigan, a tough negotiator who has been hard to push around even for Democratic governors.
Madigan reacted to Rauner’s agenda items with a degree of understatement.
“They’ll be disposed of by the Legislature – some favorably, and some not favorably,” he said.
IN SUPPORT OF UNIONS
In an interview after the speech, Madigan reflected how unions represent real people and the issues that affect them – something Rauner appears not to grasp.
“Organized labor represents working people,” he said. “For myself, I’m very interested in helping working people, and I’m sure that almost every member of the Legislature shares that view.
“Organized labor doesn’t represent everybody, but they do advance significant ideas before the Legislature as to how we can improve the economy, help people get jobs, keep jobs, pay taxes, make a mortgage payment and pay for the education of a child.”
Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois at Springfield, a respected political scientist, said Rauner “misstated” federal law in his call to block public employee unions from making campaign contributions.
“He’s kind of suggesting that it’s bad for unions or hospitals to lobby to have state government do things that benefit them, but it’s OK for corporations and banks to lobby and give money so state government will do things that benefit corporations and banks,” Redfield said.
Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said Rauner is on a “blame crusade” against unions and ignores a great amount of good news that shows his economic assumptions are wrong.
“He cherry picks data and uses right-wing think tanks to support his anti-worker proposals,” Carrigan said.
“While he points to the salaries
Carrigan noted that Illinois is now a healthy 13th among the 50 states in average weekly earnings, higher than in all but two of the 21 right-to-work states. “This is what Bruce Rauner wants to turn around,” Carrigan said.
State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) said he was disappointed by the highly partisan nature of Rauner’s speech at a time when Democrats were willing to listen to reasonable proposals.
“I was hoping there would be more of a bipartisan tenor – that we could work together on some issues that are affecting the state,” said Hoffman, who will continue as chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
“Some of the topics that were touched on by the governor today, quite frankly, I think will incite a lot of opposition,” Hoffman said.
“Directly attacking the right of individuals to organize, and of individuals to collectively bargain, is certainly a problem for our side of the aisle.”