Labor leader slams Rauner’s ‘right-to-work’ plan

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Jorge Ramirez spoke Wednesday to the City Club of Chicago. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez, speaking at a City Club of Chicago luncheon Wednesday, said Gov. Rauner’s desire to create “right-to-work” zones, where certain local wage and workplace rules would be suspended, would mean lower wages and a less-safe workplace.

“Right to work means you lose your voice in the workplace and as a result you create an easily exploitable work force,” Ramirez said, citing a study that showed right-to-work states made 6 percent less in wages on average, with minorities making even less.

RELATED: Emanuel calls for City Council hearings on Rauner’s ‘right-to-work’ zones

“Not only are you making less money in a right-to-work state, you are more likely to suffer an injury or fatality in your place of work,” Ramirez said. “Rauner is saying he’s empowering workers through these zones. Well what is he really empowering? Lower wages? A less safe workplace? You see much can be done to truly empower workers. Getting rid of protections unions provide does not need to be the bedrock of this type of empowerment.”

Ramirez told the luncheon crowd, which included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, that Rauner is not only attacking workers, but “taking direct aim at the marginalized and most vulnerable segments of our society,” by cutting funding to vital social services.

“It is morally wrong to hold the most needy in our society hostage in order to accomplish unnecessary labor reforms here in Illinois,” Ramirez said. “His instincts around what work looks like for a majority of men and women is also wrong.”

Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had introduced a resolution declaring opposition to the governor’s plan, setting the stage for City Council hearings that likely will become another chance for labor leaders to bash the rookie governor. Right-to-work zones would limit prevailing wage and workers compensation laws and eliminate project labor agreements. The result could be lower wages and benefits and unsafe working conditions, according to City Hall.

Protesters seeking a minimum wage increase gather downtown Wednesday evening at La Salle and Jackson near the Board of Trade. | John O’Neill/Sun-Times

As Ramirez spoke, organized wage protests were being staged at various times across the city, starting with an early morning gathering outside a South Side McDonald’s and including another one outside Alden Village North Health Facility for Children and Young Adults in the 7400 block of North Sheridan Road.

Martin and about 35 others were handing out leaflets as part of the “Nursing Home Workers Fight for 15.”

“I’m here to speak with all the health care workers,” said Erika Martin, 33, a health care worker from Joliet.

Their core demand — a $15-an-hour wage — is essential, she said.

“We do deserve it as health care workers,” Martin said. “We’re out there helping the families of others and other people who are sick, and we can’t take care of our own families.”

Outside a downtown McDonald’s restaurant at 111 W. Jackson on Wednesday evening, protesters chant: “McDonalds can you hear us?” and “We believe that we will win.” | John O’Neill/Sun-Times

Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Fran Spielman

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