Emanuel calls for City Council hearings on Rauner's 'right-to-work' zones

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposes a plan by Gov. Bruce Rauner to create local “right-to-work” zones, saying they would lower wages and endanger workers. | File Photo

The public rift between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his pal, Gov. Bruce Rauner, got wider Wednesday over Rauner’s provocative proposal to create local “right-to-work” zones.

At a City Council meeting, Emanuel introduced a resolution declaring opposition to the governor’s plan, setting the stage for City Council hearings that will undoubtedly turn into a forum for labor leaders to bash the rookie governor.

RELATED: Chicago Federation of Labor leader slams Rauner’s ‘right-to-work’ plan

Emanuel declared his opposition to the idea of local right-to-work zones during a series of debates in both rounds of the just-concluded mayoral campaign.

But City Council hearings will take that opposition to a whole new level and, Emanuel obviously hopes, portray him as a champion of the middle class.

Right-to-work zones would limit prevailing wage and worker’s compensation laws and eliminate project labor agreements. The result could be lower wages and benefits and unsafe working conditions, according to City Hall.

All of those actions have the “potential to dismantle labor organizations” that have “historically protected the rights of working and middle-class Chicagoans,” City Hall contends.

“I want to be very clear: as long as I’m mayor, Chicago will not be a right-to-work city. It’s a wrong-headed set of economic policies in the wrong direction. We’ve set out a different direction,” the mayor told a news conference after Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“Our goal is to build up the middle class — not to pull a rug from underneath them. Our competition is not Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky wages.”

Emanuel said Chicago has been the nation’s No. 1 city for corporate relocations for two straight years because the city has invested in “skills and education at all levels of the work force” and in transportation.

“We did not do it by setting our sights on how to beat Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. Our competition is New York, London, Shanghai — other world-class cities that are like Chicago — and showing that we can actually compete and win by having an economic strategy that supports the middle-class and lifts them up,” the mayor said.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez praised Emanuel for “taking a stand against a policy that would destroy the livelihoods of the very people” he was re-elected to protect.

“We have seen the negative impact right-to-work laws have on neighboring states. Namely, workers earning less, an increase in race and gender income inequalities and an increase in workplace fatalities,” Ramirez was quoted as saying.

In 2011, Emanuel ran for mayor with opposition from all but a handful of labor unions. He turned that around in his recently concluded re-election campaign with three major exceptions: the Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees Union (SEIU) Local 1 and SEIU Healthcare.

Emanuel and Rauner are longtime friends, education reform allies and former business associates who made millions together. Their families have vacationed together.

That’s why vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia questioned the sincerity of Emanuel’s opposition to Rauner’s doomsday budget by noting that Emanuel and Rauner are “good friends” who talk regularly and share “expensive wines together.”

Last week it became even more clear that the public rift was real.

During a conference call with hundreds of business, community and religious leaders who helped re-elect him, Emanuel predicted that the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session would run into overtime and culminate in a “mega, mega-deal.”

The mayor exhorted his supporters to join him on the front lines in fending off Rauner’s proposed cuts.

“I don’t have enough resources in the city, even in a good budget, to make up for an absent state partnership,” Emanuel said during the conference call.

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