By ELIZABETH DONALD
Termed by several speakers as “the most union-friendly governor we’ve ever had,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker spoke at a recent pro-union rally in East Alton as part of a Working Families Tour and made a major push for the Workers’ Rights Amendment.
“There’s a lot of damage we’ve had to undo over the last four years,” Pritzker told a standing-room-only crowd at the East Alton Machinists Hall. “When we came into office there wasn’t any Project Labor Agreements, and the governor before me…. I can’t say his name too many times, because it’s like Beetlejuice: say it too many times and he appears.”
Referring to former governor Bruce Rauner a couple of times as Beetlejuice, Pritzker said there was a lot of work to be done as he took over after defeating Rauner in 2018, including a major infrastructure bill that will create thousands of union jobs, $1.3 billion poured into education and most of all, those Project Labor Agreements.
PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENTS
Pritzker revealed that he has signed more than 800 Project Labor Agreements, which is more than all other 49 states combined.
“And we’re just getting started,” he said. “Every 10 years we pass an infrastructure bill, but the one that got passed 10 years ago was stopped by Beetlejuice. The need was huge, but we passed a $45 billion infrastructure bill, the largest in the nation. So if you’re having trouble getting to work, it’s because we’re working on just about every road in the state.”
That also means apprentices are getting work, and Pritzker promised to help more young people get into pre-apprentice programs in schools. He’s also been focused on the state’s fiscal situation – under Rauner, the state had eight credit downgrades, years of unbalanced budgets and 2.5 years without a budget in a stalemate with the legislature.
Now the state budget is balanced, the backlog of unpaid bills from the Rauner era is paid and the credit rating has been upgraded six times, Pritzker said. “We’re not sending millions in interest to New York anymore,” he said. “Although we’ve worked hard for nearly four years, there’s so much more that we can do for you: lifting up teachers, engaging parents, making sure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed in this state.”
UNION BUSTING TO UNION SUPPORTING
Pritzker was joined on the stage by Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton, who likewise compared where Illinois is now to where it was in the previous administration. “
We had a union-busting, Labor-hating governor doing everything he could to make sure you could not progress in this state,” she said. “Now here we are at a time when we can look at all the progress we’ve made… and make sure we are ready for November.”
While all the speakers were focused on electing and re-electing Labor-friendly candidates, the big issue in the room was the Workers Rights Amendment. It will require a 60-percent majority of all who vote on the issue in order to make the right to collective bargaining part of the Illinois state constitution.
Stratton said it is imperative that workers be able to negotiate for higher wages and safer working conditions, and that passing the amendment and re-electing “the most pro-union governor this state has ever seen” was key to making that happen.
MAKING SURE COMPANIES ARE PAYING PREVAILING WAGE
Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, echoed that praise, adding that Comptroller Susana Mendoza was actively going out and making sure companies are paying the prevailing wage. In fact, one company was caught underpaying workers by $60,000, and had to make up the money and pay a fine. Currently there are 130 inquiries and 43 actively under investigation, according to Mendoza’s office.
Each of the speakers underlined the importance of the Workers Rights Amendment, including Madison County Democratic Party Chairman Randy Harris, state Sen. Kris Tharp, legislature candidate Joe Silkwood, state Rep. Katie Stuart and state Rep. Jay Hoffman. They discussed issues with wage parity between men and women, raising the minimum salary for teachers, improving infrastructure and worker safety, and other Labor issues.
“You are the backbone of the middle class,” Pritzker told the Labor leaders. “You are the heroes of the state of Illinois, and I am so grateful to work for you.”