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House Dems fail to override Rauner veto of labor bill

House Speaker Michael Madigan in 2014 |Sun-TImes file photo

SPRINGFIELD — If it was a Gov. Bruce Rauner vs. Mike Madigan fight, then chalk up a loss for the speaker on a bill that symbolically pitted the state’s power of labor against the Republican governor.

Illinois House Democrats failed to come up with the necessary votes to override a veto of SB1229, a bill that would have empowered an arbitrator to settle negotiation disputes between public sector unions and the governor. Illinois unions attribute vote failure to “ferocious and false attacks” by Rauner.

The vote tally was 68-34, falling short of the 71 votes needed to override the measure.

The only Democratic no-show on Wednesday was state Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago. State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, voted “present.” And Rep. Scott Drury, D- Highwood, was the lone Democratic “no” vote.

In a statement, Rauner thanked house members who rejected the measure. “It is encouraging that many legislators recognized the dire financial impact this legislation would have had on our state,” he said, adding: “I hope today’s action marks the beginning of serious negotiations over how we can deliver needed structural reforms and a balanced budget.”

But the unions were not happy.

“The governor’s ferocious and false attacks on this moderate and responsible bill clearly show he wants conflict, not compromise,” Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said. “The governor’s assault on this bill may have won the day but poisoned the well for legislators of both parties who want to work together responsibly to solve problems and serve the people of Illinois. It is clear that Governor Rauner will stop at nothing to carry out his scorched-earth agenda against working people, their rights and well-being.”

House Democrats have only until Friday to override SB1229, commonly referred to as the AFSCME no strike/no lockout bill, an override that had already been advanced by Senate Democrats.

Rauner had put heavy artillery behind killing the measure, which he says sidesteps his powers as governor to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. The vote held symbolic significance as it promised to be a political showdown between Rauner and Madigan.

After the vote, Madigan met with reporters and cited a long “struggle” that was ongoing in Springfield.

“My concern is what I’ve said: That it could be a significant step by the governor to lower wages and the standard of living,” Madigan said.

“I wouldn’t be concerned with political wins or political losses,” he added.

Madigan said the two other Democrats who didn’t support the bill did so because Dunkin’s absence left an opening.

But that’s not the case, Drury said. He said he researched the issue and consulted with labor experts and decided the long-term implications of the measure were too great.

“I came to the conclusion that this bill was bad policy for labor,” he said Wednesday evening. “The right to strike is sacrosanct.”

“In looking at this bill, whatever short term benefits there may be toward the negotiations today there is a hefty price to pay, which is giving up the right to strike,” he said.

Madigan knew earlier in the day that he wouldn’t have the numbers to advance the bill. He still called it to the floor, however, likely to get a roll call vote on the matter from Republicans who all vowed to vote against it, even members who live in districts heavily populated by union members.

Dunkin, responding by text, played coy initially when a Chicago Sun-Times reporter asked him about his absence.

“Why, what’s going on??” Dunkin responded. He then said: “I’m out of town as I informed the Speaker et al last week. Period.”

But Madigan said Dunkin did not tell him he would be absent.

Suburban legislator Franks said Wednesday before the vote that he still was on the fence over the issue.

“I can tell you I can’t believe that we’re allowing that to be the focus of this General Assembly and not bringing us back for another three weeks at a time when we haven’t discussed pension reform. When the Supreme Court threw out the pension legislation and we have the worst funded pensions,” he said.

House Republicans banded together, vowing to send a unified message of dissent should the bill be called.

“No Republicans will be voting in support of SB 1229 today, or tomorrow or any other day,” House Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin said after leaving the House Republican’s caucus early Wednesday. “This is a direct assault upon the executive branch. We’re leaving the decision of a union contract in the hands of an unelected official, an arbitrator. One which comes from a pool or arbitrators that were selected under Gov. Quinn and also Gov. Blagojevich.

“We don’t believe an issue that could be anywhere from $1.5 to $2 billion should be left in the hands of a non-elected official,” Durkin said. “This should be about going back to the table — negotiating. The governor has stated that he is going to continue to negotiate, will negotiate, he will not lock them out. I trust him and this is bad policy. We’re changing the rules of the game midstream during negotiations.”

Durkin said central Illinois Republicans, whose districts are populated by state workers, had “very emotional statements inside, but our caucus felt very strong this was the appropriate position.”

Durkin’s statements came after one Republican in the Senate, Sam McCann of Carlinville, voted to override the bill.

House Democrats tried — and failed — on a number of override measures on Wednesday. The exception was HB1, which paves the way to fund heroin treatment. Rauner had used his amendatory veto power on that measure. In that case, Republicans put votes in favor of an override.

Schlikerman reported from Springfield.