Executive Director Reports

Rauner’s loss is workers’ win

A 15-point trouncing is a rejection of his anti-union agenda

 Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

When an incumbent governor loses by 15 points—something that hasn’t happened in Illinois since 1948—voters are doing more than picking a candidate. They are choosing sides.

That’s why Bruce Rauner’s 54-39 trouncing means more than the loss of an election. Paired with the rout of his hand-picked candidates and legislative enablers, the results were an emphatic rejection of Rauner’s anti-union agenda and his four years of attacks on working people.

Rauner’s mission was to weaken unions and render workers defenseless. His models were Wisconsin and Michigan, where governors stripped workers’ rights, then slashed wages, health benefits and workplace protections.

Rauner’s chief target was the public sector, and because more than 35,000 AFSCME members in state government were his employees, his sights were set first on our union.

But today, after Illinois voters delivered Rauner’s pink slip, AFSCME is still here and standing strong.

An outcome like this doesn’t just happen, of course. For AFSCME members and our allies, it’s the result of four years of standing together, fighting and winning, time and again.

We fought off Rauner’s attempts to strip collective bargaining rights from all public employees in Illinois, no matter if they worked for state or local government, school districts or universities. We turned back continuing attacks on pensions.

State employees stood strong in our fight for a fair contract, even through an unprecedented and powerful strike authorization vote, staving off Rauner’s phony claim of impasse and his scheme to impose massive hikes in health care costs and unfettered privatization of our jobs. We repeatedly challenged him on picket lines, in the media and in the courts, and we beat him in every legal battle.

In the midst of all that, we secured legislative approval for the back pay owed to thousands of AFSCME members since 2011.

There’s no doubt that these have been the most difficult four years many AFSCME members have faced on the job. Rauner’s strategy was to belittle public employees in the press, starve us of resources needed to do our jobs, and to act unilaterally–and illegally—to drive down our incomes.

We never wavered, and for that, every AFSCME member has reason to be proud. Where Rauner and his cronies thought we would crumble, we summoned every ounce of our solidarity, grit and persistence to prove them wrong.

Those battles weren’t easy—and some aren’t over yet. Rauner’s illegal freeze on step progression has thousands of state workers and their families falling behind. Our jobs, often demanding and even dangerous, are that much more difficult due to his inattention to the operations of state government and his constant media attacks.

And we have to keep rising up in the aftermath of the Janus case that Rauner filed and backed all the way to the US Supreme Court. Despite that profound political assault meant to weaken and divide us, through the AFSCME Strong program of signing up former fee-payers in every worksite, we actually have more dues-paying members today than we did before the Janus decision.

As we move forward now, we do so knowing that Rauner’s anti-union crusade was a massive failure. Illinois voters overwhelmingly repudiated Rauner and his mean-spirited anti-worker agenda. They rejected candidates willing to do Rauner’s bidding and divide our state, opting instead for leaders who want to move Illinois forward together. Our neighbors in Wisconsin joined us in demanding an end to division and chaos by taking down Rauner’s hero, Governor Scott Walker.

Yet even as we celebrate, we know the way forward won’t be easy. There are contracts to negotiate, pension underfunding to address, and a lingering budgetary crisis, the hangover from Rauner’s years of mismanagement in the form of billions of dollars of late fees and unpaid bills. And our enemies like the Illinois Policy Institute aren’t going anywhere. They’ll continue to try to score political points by blaming unions and union members for whatever ails our state.

As we go forward, we have good reason to believe that JB Pritzker, Juliana Stratton and the strong legislative majorities we helped to elect will be the opposites of Bruce Rauner and his followers. We will no doubt have our differences, but we can expect them to respect our rights, value our work, and work with us in good faith.

Most importantly, we have the knowledge that we came through the Rauner years together, stronger than ever, with a renewed sense of unity and determination that will serve us well as we meet the challenges to come.