Executive Director Reports

Rauner all wrong for working families

Henry Bayer
Executive Director

June-July 2014

“We need to stop demonizing unions. You can disagree with AFSCME, you can disagree with the teachers, you can disagree with other public employee unions without demonizing unions as some who want to be governor are wont to do.”

If you think those are the words of some progressive, pro-union Democrat, guess again.

They’re the words of Republican Jim Thompson, who occupied the Illinois governor’s office from 1977 until 1991.

Thompson didn’t make that statement because he was seeking the vote of union members. He made it in 2013, long after he left public office.

Then why did Thompson make that statement? His reasoning, again in his words:

“Without the public employees we wouldn’t enjoy the life we do in the state of Illinois. We would not have the education of our children and grandchildren in the state of Illinois. We would not have a decent business climate in the state of Illinois without good, honest, hard-working public employees.”

When Thompson was inaugurated, there was no collective bargaining law for public employees in our state. There was an executive order, signed by his predecessor Dan Walker, a Democrat, which granted limited bargaining rights to state employees.

Thompson said he would honor the executive order and the contracts associated with it, and he did. And when a public employee collective bargaining bill was passed by the General Assembly, Governor Thompson signed it into law—and fully complied with it.

How far has the current Republican candidate for governor, Bruce Rauner, travelled from the legacy of his Republican Party predecessors?

Light years. Rauner has made the centerpiece of his campaign an attack on public employees and their unions. He calls union contributions to politicians “bribes” that have “bought” exorbitant salaries and benefits for public workers.

Rauner identifies with a different wing of the Republican Party. He sings the praises of former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, citing him as a “model.”

Daniels, like Thompson, was greeted by a collective bargaining executive order when he became governor. But unlike Thompson, Daniels rescinded that order on his first day in office, eliminating bargaining rights for tens of thousands of state employees with the stroke of a pen.

After pledging that he wouldn’t support a so-called right-to-work law, Daniels reneged on his promise and signed legislation that requires unions to provide representation to employees but doesn’t allow the unions to collect a fee for that representation.

Rauner wants to bring these same anti-union policies to Illinois – and he wants to help himself and his rich friends in the process.

When Rauner opposed the pension bills that gutted our benefits, it wasn’t because he wanted to protect our retirement security. It’s because the bills didn’t go far enough – he’d like to place all public employees in risky 401(k)-style plans that guarantee no benefits to retirees, but do guarantee Rauner’s money manager pals a fixed percentage of every dollar invested.

In the nearly four decades I’ve been with the union we had 26 years of Republican governors followed by 14 years of Democrats.

We had our ups and downs with all of them. We endorsed members of both parties – and sometimes endorsed no one at all.

We fought with one or the other of them over wages, pensions, facility closures, budgets and a range of other issues.

Rauner too wants to cut our wages, slash our pensions, increase our insurance costs and reduce benefits for injured workers. He even wants to cut the minimum wage.

But he’s not planning to be fighting our union over these issues – he wants to make sure we don’t exist to make that fight.

In Bruce Rauner’s ideal world, there will be no union to negotiate pay increases. Employees will be paid whatever the employer decides. If the legislature considers pension cuts, there’ll be no union to lobby against it or to sue if an unconstitutional law is passed.

Can’t happen here? Ask the state employees in Indiana who lost their bargaining rights, or in Wisconsin where, as a result of another of Rauner’s “model” governors, Scott Walker, public employees at every level of government no longer have the right to collectively bargain over wages and benefits.

Mitch Daniels and Scott Walker waited until the polls closed to unveil their agendas, but Bruce Rauner’s not waiting. He’s made no secret of the fact that he wants to extinguish labor unions.

If we wake up with Bruce Rauner in the governor’s mansion, we won’t be able to say we didn’t know what was coming.

We do know. The question is what will we do about it?

If union members don’t spread the word about Rauner to their friends and neighbors and throughout their communities, who will?

If we as a union don’t do it now, we won’t be around to do it later.