Executive Director Reports

Rauner pushes to weaken rights, cut benefits

He’s blind to the demands and dangers many public employees face every day.

 Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

Bruce Rauner is at it again. He ran our state deep into debt, destabilized its institutions, demoralized its people—and his solution to the giant mess he’s created is to beat up some more on public employees. Only a psychiatrist could explain why Rauner so consistently singles out middle class public employees as his targets, seeking to reduce our income and make our lives more difficult while asking nothing of our state’s wealthy elite.

In the latest instance—his 2019 budget address—Rauner laid out three lines of attack against public service workers: remove health care benefits from collective bargaining so that he and other employers can impose big cost increases on state, university and local government employees; cut the pension benefits of current state and university employees; and take away health care benefits from retired teachers.

Rauner claims he doesn’t think it’s fair that private sector workers should pay taxes that allow public sector workers to have better benefits than they do. This is as empty an argument as you’ll ever hear.

After all, why should middle class taxpayers (including public employees) have to pay taxes to support the countless tax breaks (totaling over $3 billion) that big business gets in our state?

Rauner’s assault takes direct aim at public employees after a year which powerfully illuminates the unique and daunting challenges that so many face on the job every day—the risks they take, the sacrifices they make, and the consequences they face in the service of the public good.

I am writing these words just a few days after attending the funeral service for Pamela Sue Knight, a DCFS caseworker who died after having been brutally beaten when she attempted to rescue a two-year-old child from an abusive parent. Where was Bruce Rauner’s recognition of the courage and dedication of Pam Knight and the risks that DCFS employees take every day to protect kids?

And after introducing policy changes that made our state’s correctional centers more chaotic and violent, where was Rauner’s concern for the DOC and DJJ staff who are being assaulted by inmates with increasing frequency? Why did he fail to even mention employees like Mary B., an educator at IYC St. Charles, who was punched repeatedly in the face and knocked out cold by one of the incarcerated youth, causing lasting damage to her face and neck? 

Or Silvia N., a correctional officer at East Moline CC, alone on duty when she was attacked by an inmate and knocked unconscious with a rock? Or the growing number of staff injuries at Pontiac CC, like the one suffered by Zack S., a correctional officer who an inmate stabbed in the head with a shank?

Does Bruce Rauner have even the faintest idea of what it’s like to face the daily threat of assault just to earn a living, like Chester MHC security therapy aide Geoff F. who a forensic patient attacked and nearly choked to death?

And then there is the highly-publicized crisis at the Quincy Veterans’ Home, where multiple outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease over the past three years have left 13 residents dead. Through each outbreak, the employees—public employees—at the home have remained on the job, continuing to care for the veterans despite the risks to their own health. Employees like nursing assistant Antoinette B. who had to be hospitalized after coming down with the disease. 

Unfortunately, many, many more public service workers are injured in the line of duty every day in our state. Yes, their jobs carry inherent risks, but in far too many instances those risks are made far worse by an employer that fails to make any attempt to minimize them.

Everyone deserves respect on the job, affordable health care and dignity in retirement. Yet public employees in Illinois now must work under the shadow of a governor who not only dismisses the value of the work we do, but demeans us while seeking to make health care less accessible and retirement less secure. 

We need a governor who acts out of basic human decency. A governor who cares about safe working conditions and works to reduce the risks that employees face on the job. We need a governor who respects and values public employees and the vital work we do, not one who batters and belittles us seeking to take away our rights and drive down our standard of living. 

This is the year we can set a better course, but it won’t be easy. Rauner has untold wealth at his disposal, utter ruthlessness as his modus operandi, and not even a nodding acquaintance with honesty or integrity.

It will take an epic effort to defeat him. But if we are united and determined in our own ranks, if we join with others who want a better state, if we refuse to succumb to cynicism or despair, and if we work our hearts out, this November’s election can mark a new start for Illinois.