Rauner scores big win by small margin on ‘right-to-work’ veto

Then Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner arrives at Illinois State Fair during Republican Day, Wednesday August 13, 2014 in Springfield, IL. File Photo. | Jessica Koscielniak / Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD—In a big win for Gov. Bruce Rauner — and perhaps a sign that Republican legislators haven’t deserted him — the Illinois House failed by just one vote to override his veto of a bill that would prohibit local municipalities from enacting “right-to-work” zones to get around unions.

This week of the veto session was seen as a test of how badly the governor had alienated Republicans after signing into law a House bill that expands public funding of abortion — a move that even spawned the possibility he’ll get a primary challenger.

The test comes three months after Rauner saw some House Republicans buck him on a tax and budget package. But on Wednesday, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin worked his caucus hard — and only four Republicans broke ranks on the override measure, joining 66 Democrats.  The 70-42 vote fell one vote short.

Rauner’s victory lap for an issue he’s pushed since his election may be a short one, however.  A motion to reconsider the vote can still be filed, and bill sponsor state Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, plans to file separate legislation ahead of the veto session next month to remove a controversial portion of the measure that offers a criminal penalty to local governments that enact right-to-work. Both of those options offer an opportunity to get additional votes on the measure.

An override requires 71 votes, and there are 67 House Democrats.

Right-to-work essentially allows people to work in union jobs without paying union dues. Rauner included it in his “Turnaround Agenda.” He’s argued that without it, local municipalities are denied flexibility, resulting in fewer jobs, slower economic growth and higher taxes.

In a statement, the governor called the failed override a “victory” for the people of Illinois.

“Instead, courageous House lawmakers stood together to dump the old playbook and move forward to make Illinois more competitive,” the governor said in a statement.

The Illinois Senate voted 42-13 to override the veto on Tuesday, with no debate.  After the Senate override, the governor’s office said the override “could create a damaging loss for the economic competitiveness of Illinois.” The governor’s office said the vote denies local communities the ability to decide for themselves how they’d like to structure regulations to compete with nearby states.

The statement responding to the Senate vote came out the same day Rauner released a campaign ad featuring the governors of Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri thanking Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for sending jobs their way.

While Rauner has signaled his support for right-to-work for years, he’s also focused on a U.S. Supreme Court case — of which he was the initial plaintiff — that challenges whether government employee unions should be able to collect fees from nonmembers. Rauner’s former chief of staff Kristina Rasmussen, a former head of the Illinois Policy Institute, said she left his administration to head an “initiative” in support of the case.

The measure that failed on Wednesday would have prohibited local units of government from instituting “right-to-work” ordinances. The bill was pushed after the village of Lincolnshire in 2015 enacted a right-to-work ordinance, which unions challenged in court. A federal district court agreed with the unions that local right-to-work ordinances are pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act, which allows states to pass right-to-work laws but doesn’t allow local units of government to do so.

During nearly an hour of debate, state Rep. Jeanne Ives,  R-Wheaton, said the override would send a bad signal to businesses: “It is the nail in the coffin for Illinois business.”

Moylan said the bill would help to send a message that the state shouldn’t become a right-to-work state.

But Republicans had some sticking points with the measure, including a provision that would enact a penalty for local municipalities who enact right-to-work zones. Moylan said that would be removed in a trailer bill.

“This is not a clean bill,” said Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee. “A yes vote is a yes to locking up village trustees and putting local mayors in jail. Let’s just remember that. … We should demand a clean bill, not this.”

Many Democrats pointed the finger at the governor for pushing the right-to-work issue and blaming him for a union busting ideology.

“The governor over and over and over again keeps beating his fist on this,” state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, said, adding workers in nearby right-to-work states “make less, have a higher injury rate at work and less health care for their families.”

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