Republican Bruce Rauner has demonized “government union bosses,” declared public-employee unions are “organized against the public good” and signaled he wants to go far beyond last December’s pension-reform package that unions opposed.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is being sued by those same unions over a pension-reform package he enacted and that one leader said would “rob working people of their life savings.”
So now that it’s clear the fall gubernatorial campaign will be between Rauner and Quinn, those same public-employee unions find themselves facing a bit of a Hobson’s Choice.
There seems to be little chance AFSCME Council 31, the Illinois Education Association or Illinois Federation of Teachers will do a political 180 and embrace Rauner, a candidate they’ve spent more than $3.1 million trying to defeat in the primary and who has sparked comparisons to Wisconsin’s union-busting Gov. Scott Walker.
“Rauner has effectively made the declaration of war against Illinois unions, and we’re going to be doing everything we can to defeat him,” Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan told the Chicago Sun-Times.
But what kind of vigor will the public-sector unions use on behalf of Quinn’s campaign since the governor is the name and face most associated with the “theft” from last December’s pension vote in Springfield? After all, Quinn is a defendant in their lawsuit trying to undo that law.
Quinn, who has not strained his ties with the trade unions and has a close bond with the United Auto Workers, does respect unions’ right to organize and has been a friend to labor on other issues despite the pension-reform push, his campaign said.
“There’s a fundamental, philosophical difference between the governor’s approach and the [Scott] Walker/Rauner approach. We work with the unions. We don’t believe in trying to abolish the right to organize,” said Izabela Miltko, a spokeswoman for Quinn’s campaign. “Gov. Quinn has been a champion of the labor movement.”
Miltko cited Quinn’s role in negotiating a new three-year labor deal with state government’s 35,000 unionized workers in February 2013. It called for 2-percent raises in both 2013 and 2014, plus the awarding of raises from an earlier deal Quinn rescinded in 2011 and 2012.
But the head of one of Illinois two major teachers unions offered no immediate hint of its plans regarding Quinn and said both the governor and Rauner would be invited to speak at its April convention to lay out their views on public education.
“It’s going to have to be whether people are willing to sit down and talk about the real issues,” IEA President Cinda Klickna told the Sun-Times.
“The real issues are education funding, making sure our communities are strong with strong schools. So, that’s what we’re about,” she said.
Rauner has other major planks in his platform that unions dislike, including his push to freeze government pensions at existing levels and move public workers into 401(k)-style retirement funds.
A backer of increased charter schools and school vouchers, Rauner also has called for giving counties and municipalities authority to impose right-to-work rules on employers so union membership and withholding of dues wouldn’t be automatic in organized workplaces.
“I’m not anti-union, and I’m not out of touch,” Rauner told reporters Wednesday.
But Klickna seemed to dispute that claim from the Republican candidate and indicated she still has a bitter taste from some of the positions he’s staked out during the primary that are decidedly antagonistic toward unions.
“I don’t know if Bruce Rauner is really willing to sit and talk with me or talk with our unions,” she said. “This campaign has characterized me in a way that I never characterized myself nor do our members. I guess we’ll just have to see.”
Another top union leader, who asked not to be quoted publicly prior to a formal union pronouncement on the race, predicted that the state’s public-sector unions eventually would come around to Quinn because Rauner is a far worse choice for labor.
“They have to get used to what happened [Tuesday], and I just don’t know how they can do an analysis based on the pluses and minuses and somehow think Rauner is the guy or that sitting out the November elections is a shrewd strategy,” the union source said. “I just don’t see it.”