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House to vote on Right to Work: 'It's gonna fail. It's meant to fail. And it will fail.'

Gov. Bruce Rauner enters the House to applause before delivering his State of the Budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chambers in Springfield in February. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

“Political theater” or a “serious vote” on which legislators must take a stand.

Those are the contrasting views of the Illinois House vote scheduled Thursday for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s much trumpeted right-to-work proposal.

But after all the talk, the anti-union bill is expected to get as many “yes” votes as last week’s vote on his proposed cuts to social services:

Zero.

“It will fail miserably in the House of Representatives tomorrow,” a legislative source said Wednesday. “Certain members of organized labor are getting lots of people worked up over nothing. It’s gonna fail. It’s meant to fail. And it will fail.”

Republicans dismiss Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s move to call a vote on right to work as “political theater.”

But public-sector unions say they’re watching closely.

“Our message has been to House members that this is a very serious vote, we want to see a solid “no” vote,” said Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael T. Carrigan who represents the We Are One coalition of public unions in Illinois. Last week, House Republicans voted “present” when Madigan surprised them by putting Rauner’s social service cuts language into a bill and calling it for a vote. On Thursday, he’s expected to do the same with right to work, which is designed to undercut unions’ power.

“We’re not looking for “present” votes. Present votes are not acceptable,” Carrigan told the Chicago Sun-Times. “If there are too many absences by House members, we will look at their absences with suspicious eyes. No. It’s time to find out where an elected legislator, an elected person is on this subject.”

Sources say the governor’s office has been working behind the scenes to influence the Republican House caucus.

In recent weeks, in what is viewed as an attempted show of force by the governor, Rauner has moved hundreds of thousands of dollars into various campaign committees. That is on top of the $20 million already in Rauner’s campaign committee and millions more in a Turnaround Committee that says part of its mission is to “oppose those who stand in the way” of Rauner’s “bold and needed reforms.”

Even Republican lawmakers privately say they hope that a public vote will allow legislators to move forward on issues such as the budget and how to fund pensions.

Last week, Madigan’s office released a statement noting Rauner had talked about right to work for “100 days” and urged the rookie governor to provide language so the issue could be voted on.

“It’s not a real bill. It is not the governor’s bill,” said state Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove. “It’s not a genuine attempt to bring the issue forward in the right way. It’s an attempt to embarrass some, or put pressure on some.”

Asked on Wednesday whether the governor’s office had given Madigan any language, a spokeswoman said: “We have nothing to add at this time,” then pointed to last week’s statement.

In a statement last week on the social service cuts vote, Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said that the administration continues to work in good faith over the governor’s turnaround agenda “and will remain at the table as long as it takes. If House Democrats want to walk away from the negotiating table and vote on a proposal before there is bipartisan agreement that the material is ready to be introduced in committee, then they should start with a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on legislators.”

Rauner has for months toured the state advocating his Turnaround Agenda, which largely aims to disarm public-sector unions, including by asking communities to adopt local “empowerment zones” where union membership and paying unions fees weren’t a condition of employment. It has gained little traction, however.

Carrigan contends it’s done the opposite of what Rauner has intended, with local governments finding Rauner’s language polarizing.

“Gov. Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda has awakened the labor movement throughout Illinois,” Carrigan said. “Every day we’re impressed by members who are going to local public body meetings to speak out against the turnaround resolution.”