WASHINGTON — A national labor group on Tuesday applauded Illinois being back in the union game.
New Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker drew the sharp contrast between himself and his pro-labor policies and former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s drive to diminish unions in his debut speech as governor to North America’s Building Trade Unions 2019 legislative conference.
“When we were at this conference a year ago, Illinois had the most anti-union governor in the nation,” Pritzker said. The audience booed each time Pritzker said Rauner’s name. Pritzker paused, with relish, at each round of boos.
In 2018, Pritzker came to Washington for the conference as the Democratic governor nominee looking for labor support, though he did not speak to the group.
In 2018, Rauner traveled to Washington to be in the Supreme Court for oral arguments and the ruling in the landmark case he successfully brought against public unions, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. Rauner had made weakening Illinois government unions a crusade during his entire term.
It’s telling that Pritzker was the only governor on the speaking program, which on Wednesday will include a string of Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls.
North America’s Building Trades Unions is the umbrella group for the major unions representing the trades: teamsters; bricklayers; electrical, sheet metal iron and elevator workers; painters; laborers; plasterers; cement masons; plumbers; welders; roofers; operating engineers; welders; insulators and boilermakers.
Pritzker started with shout-outs to trade union leaders from Illinois: Lonnie Stephenson with IBEW, Eric Dean with the Iron Workers, and Frank Christensen with the Elevator Constructors.
“My predecessor, Gov. Bruce Rauner,” he said, stopping for the boos, “was determined to lower wages for working families by ending collective-bargaining rights, by tearing down the labor movement.”
Rauner “was hell bent,” Pritzker said, on eliminating project labor agreements, pushing local right-to-work zones and “destroying” prevailing wage agreements while “stacking the Illinois Department of Labor with his anti-union cronies allied with the Koch Brothers,” a reference to the anti-union drives bankrolled by the billionaire brothers.
Rauner “went to war on the working families in Illinois. Gov. Bruce Rauner learned an important lesson though: Don’t mess with the men and women in the labor movement,” Pritzker said to applause.
Pritzker told the group about actions he did from day one as governor: signing orders restoring project labor and prevailing wage agreements and dealing with wage theft and day-labor exploitation. He also signed a law raising the Illinois minimum wage to $15-an-hour by 2025.
“I want to be clear. When it comes to fighting for Illinois workers, we are just getting started,” said Pritzker.
“I want my tenure as governor to be defined by our work to create real lasting opportunity for the middle class and for those who are striving to be in the middle class.”
Pritzker and Pelosi
Pritzker spoke after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “America’s middle class has a union label on it,” she said. Pelosi and Pritzker both pitched the need for federal and state infrastructure spending. “Build, build, build,” Pelosi said.
I knew Pritzker and Pelosi know each other but didn’t realize how far back they go — most of his life.
Pritkzer was born in northern California. His late parents knew Pelosi, living in San Francisco, because they were all involved in Democratic Party politics. “I grew up with her kids. We would go skiing sometimes. I knew her, I think, since I was 5 or 6 years old.”
Thompson Center sale and the Dubuffet sculpture
Pritzker signed a law on Friday authorizing the sale of the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop, a state office building designed by Helmut Jahn.
The sale process will take years. I asked Pritzker were he wanted to relocate the state workers. The Bilandic Building across the street will likely have some, not all replacement space.
“In my view, we don’t need to be in the center of the city for all the functions of state government.”
My question: If the Thompson Center is demolished, what will happen to Jean Dubuffet’s “Monument with Standing Beast,” the sculpture by the famed French artist in the plaza.
“I don’t know enough about that to even opine about that,” said Pritzker.
Rauner in New Zealand
A former Rauner associate told me since leaving office, Rauner has been traveling — was in New Zealand “for awhile and is now trying to plan what’s next.”
Raoul and Bustos on Capitol Hill
Also on the labor front Tuesday: Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., introduced Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul before he testified at a House Appropriations Committee panel on wage theft.
Last week at a hearing, Bustos slammed Trump Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta during a hearing on his department’s budget and the money requested for auditing and investigating labor unions.
Said Bustos, “Your philosophy of cutting the red tape seems to apply to everyone except for labor unions.”