Executive Director Reports

Fighting against the flood

 Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

October-November 2014

When the waters start to rise, do you join the sandbag crews working nonstop to hold them back? Or do you just go on about your business, then struggle desperately to save home and family when the deluge comes?

If you don’t live on a flood plain, maybe you’ve never been faced with that decision. But the choice facing union members in Illinois right now is just as stark – and as potentially devastating.

As I write, there is exactly one month remaining in the fevered contest for governor of Illinois. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner is a billionaire venture capitalist who’s running on pure bile, spewing nonstop venom at public employees and the unions that represent them.

Rauner boasts that he’ll “take on” AFSCME, SEIU and the teachers’ unions. He says public sector unions have “bribed” politicians to gain “stunningly generous” wages and benefits for public employees and he’s vowed to slash pay and eliminate pensions.

He’s a big fan of privatization – citing former Indiana governor and big-time privatizer, Mitch Daniels, as his role model – and making some of his own big bucks as the owner of a company that operates private probation services.

More fundamentally, Rauner’s made it clear as crystal he doesn’t believe unions like ours should be allowed to exist, calling them “corrupt” and “immoral”, “by their nature.”

For some folks – like those who are always so sure the river won’t really overflow its banks – that’s just campaign rhetoric, nothing to worry about. But Rauner’s record tells a different story. Here’s a guy who made his vast fortune by the most cutthroat kind of business practices, resulting in wrongful death lawsuits, federal investigations and criminal charges against various business associates.

He’s been involved in more shady deals than our best researchers have been able to count, shipped thousands of jobs overseas, and studied up on governing with Wisconsin’s union-busting Scott Walker.

He’s on tape vowing that he’ll force state employees out on strike – and keep them out until he gets his way. He even claimed he’d follow Reagan’s example of firing 12,000 of the nation’s air traffic controllers when they went on strike and hiring replacement workers.

If there’s anyone who’s still sitting back and thinking those waters won’t wash over you, I hope you’ll think again. Think about what your working life would be like with no union contract, basically with no union. That’s where Bruce Rauner wants to go, beyond any doubt. And not just when it comes to state employees, but for every public employee – in cities, counties, universities and school districts across Illinois.

Life without a union? If you’ve seen the video on our website about what’s already happened to our union brothers and sisters in Wisconsin, you have some idea of what will come in the door with Bruce Rauner: “Seniority… means nothing anymore,” they told us. “We haven’t been able to bargain for wages.” “We have no say in working conditions.” “Immediately lost about $5,000 per year.”

That’s not just Wisconsin state employees; it’s city sanitation workers in Milwaukee, teachers in Green Bay, university clerical employees in Madison, and hundreds of thousands more.

Without a union contract, management sets wages wherever they want them to be, step plans can be wiped out with the stroke of a pen, health care costs can soar almost overnight. Without a union contract, management can discipline, even fire, at will and fear rules in the workplace. Without a union, there are few rules management must abide by – and many arbitrary rules that employees can’t contest.

Without a union, there’s no way for workers to come together to have a voice on legislation that affects their work, their families and their future. And there’s no way to counter the outsized influence of the uber-wealthy who have succeeded in blowing the lid off restrictions on campaign contributions and are prepared to spend millions to blow working people out of the political waters altogether.

Perhaps most importantly, without a union, there’s no way to demand the respect and dignity that ought to be the right of every worker – but are too often trampled on by those in power.

We in AFSCME have had more than our share of battles with Governor Pat Quinn over the past four years. But we still have our union – strong and proud as ever. We still have our union contracts, in state government and every other level of government – with our rights intact, even enhanced.

The reality is as plain as a fast-rising river: Every AFSCME member who wants to preserve and defend the right to have a union must help re-elect Pat Quinn. That’s the only way to defeat the dangerous current that is Bruce Rauner. If we succeed in that, we’ll undoubtedly continue to cross swords with Governor Quinn. But we’ll also – without any doubt – continue to have our union contract, our union rights. And we’ll have demonstrated – beyond any doubt – our resolve, our unity, and our determination to prevail in whatever battles are to come.