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State union workers issue rally cry to Gov. Rauner: stop holding state hostage

At least 1,300 union employees packed the city’s Plumber’s Union Hall on Saturday as they listened to several rallying cries from union leaders amidst the state’s budget impasse and union contract struggles.

“Gov. Rauner, stop holding the working families of Illinois hostage,” Kenya Smith Covington of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) said to cheers.

And from Roberta Lynch, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union Council 31, who nearly lost her voice screaming to the crowd: “We’re marching on and we will not stop, like Dr. King said, ‘Until justice rings down like waters.’”

The unions, which included representatives from the Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO Illinois, AFSCME and SEIU came together for the first of seven planned rallies this week across the state.

The “Rallies for Fairness” are aimed at sending Rauner a message: “Stop holding hostages, drop your extreme demands that hurt all working people, and agree to a fair budget and fair union contracts now,” organizers of the event said.

Rauner’s state cuts and his turnaround agenda were booed at every step as union workers waved signs that read “Fair Contract Now.”

“Do we deserve fair compensation? Well, Governor Rauner doesn’t think you do,” Michael Carrigan, President of AFL-CIO Illinois told the crowd.

Carrigan said pushing down wages and benefits on the middle class is the Rauner’s administration definition of “compromise.”

“We’re not going to stand for that. We’re going to fight,” Carrigan siad.

Powerful state politicians also joined union leaders and employees at the rally, including United States Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Illinois Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

“We are talking about the middle class. We are talking about seniors. We are talking about children. We are talking about the disabled and most vulnerable people in the state,” Schakowsky said. “But does he care? No. Because he has a pathological union busting agenda, and he is not going to stop until he gets his way. And so we have to stand firm. Are you ready to fight back?”

The state and AFSCME Council 31 have yet to reach a contract. The union — which represents the state’s largest employee union — has said Rauner is demanding a four-year wage freeze and hikes in employee health costs, forcing workers to pay double their current premium to keep their coverage and drive down their take-home pay.

Other unions are also in limbo with the state.

As of November, the Rauner administration had reached new collective bargaining agreement with 17 different bargaining units that represent more than 5,000 state employees, units represent more than 5,000 state employees. But that leaves out some 40,000 state employees in other unions, including SEIU Healthcare.

The state has been without a budget since July 1.