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Strait of the unions: No solidarity for labor in crowded mayoral race

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union rally outside City Hall in 2016. The CTU is backing Toni Preckwinkle for mayor this year, but other unions are backing other candidates in the divided race. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union rally outside City Hall in 2016. The CTU is backing Toni Preckwinkle for mayor this year. | Sun-Times file photo

Organized labor almost never walks in political lockstep. But it’s truly marching to the beat of different drummers in the crowded race to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Chicago Federation of Labor, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 have all taken a pass on the mayor’s race.

“We have unions who’ve come out for different candidates, for one. But, also because there [is] more than one candidate [who] has a solid reputation with labor,” said Robert Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

“It didn’t seem like now is the time to pick sides with this many people in the race. Anything could literally happen.”

Robert Reiter, president of Chicago Federation of Labor, speaks at a news conference in December. File Photo. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Robert Reiter, president of Chicago Federation of Labor, speaks at a news conference in December. File Photo. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union, Service Employees International Union Locals 1 and 73 and SEIU Health Care have lined up behind Toni Preckwinkle. So has the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881.

The SEIU endorsements alone have translated into roughly $2 million in cash and in-kind contributions to Preckwinkle, nearly two dozen full-time campaign workers and upwards of 500 part-time volunteers.

Chicago Public Schools parents, activists and union members rally in support of the Chicago Teachers Union in front of the Mayor's Office in 2016. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools parents, activists and union members rally in support of the Chicago Teachers Union in front of the Mayor’s Office in 2016. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Trade unions are largely backing Susana Mendoza.

Together, political action committees for the carpenters, painters, bricklayers, laborers and finishing trades have pumped $885,000 into Mendoza’s campaign.

The Chicago Federation of Musicians, the Illinois Nurses Association, UFCW Local 1546 and labor leader Dolores Huerta have also endorsed Mendoza.

Bill Daley’s labor spigot is more like a trickle — from the Plumbers Union. The union’s endorsement event gave Daley an excuse to skip out on a recent televised debate with the top-tier candidates.

But, a dark money PAC with ties to Operating Engineers Local 150 is spending $714,000 in the campaign’s final days to blanket the television airwaves with an ad blasting Daley as a “Wall Street banker who got rich off working people.”

Bill Daley’s father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, had a close working relationship with organized labor in the pre-collective bargaining days of handshake agreements.

The once rock-solid relationship turned sour under Bill Daley’s brother, former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In a 2007 mayoral election that turned out to be Richard M. Daley’s last, the Chicago Federation of Labor did not endorse the incumbent mayor of Chicago for the first time in its modern history.

Mayor Richard M. Daley discusses the big-box ordinance at a 2006 news conference. File Photo by Jim Frost/Sun-Times

7-24-06 mayor Daley’s big box press conference. photo by Jim Frost sun-times

The CFL exacted its political revenge four months after Richard M. Daley used his first and only veto to kill a big-box minimum wage ordinance that would have required retailing giants to pay employees at least $13 an hour in wages and benefits by 2010.

The big-box veto might have been forgiven if it had been organized labor’s only beef with Daley. But it was more like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It set the stage for labor to be a major player in the 2007 aldermanic election with an impressive scorecard: Five wins, two losses and seven aldermen forced into runoffs.

This time around, labor is either playing or sitting on the sidelines on a field of fourteen mayoral candidates. It’s almost certain to be a low-turnout election.

“The ability to put members on the street talking to their neighbors and fellow workers about a candidate is a pretty powerful force,” said Jerry Morrison, assistant to the president of SEIU Local 1.

“Whoever gets in second place, it could be by a few votes. In a race divided in as many different ways as this one is, you could argue that it could be the deciding factor.”

Bill Daley’s famous name and his $7.4 million campaign warchest — nearly double Preckwinkle’s take — has allowed him to take his message directly to Chicago voters.

But, he’s realistic about the potential impact of labor support and the political foot soldiers unions can provide to help get out the vote on election day.

“The bulk of Preckwinkle’s money is labor. That’s helped her be where she’s at. And Mendoza’s money— transferred from her comptroller’s race and the money she’s raised so far — is probably $1 million-plus from labor,” Daley said.

“That’ll have a big impact on them. It’s keeping ‘em both alive and well financially. I’ll find out Tuesday” whether or not labor support is decisive.

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, right, with Ken Raskin, left, owner of Manny's Deli on Election day, March 20th, 2018. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, right, with Ken Raskin, left, owner of Manny’s Deli on Election day, March 20th, 2018. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

As for the 11th-hour blitz aimed at portraying him as a Darth Vader to working people, Bill Daley characterized it as a gutless sneak attack.

“It pisses me off,” Daley said of the dark money the operating engineers are secretly spending on behalf of Mendoza.

“People are tired of throwing dirt and not saying who’s behind it,” Bill Daley said.

“If they gave $750,000 to her campaign and said, ‘Go out and tout yourself,’ great. But, all they do is try to hide and whack me with some phony name of the organization instead of the union. They’re not even proud to put the union name on it.”

Mayoral candidate Bill Daley in the 2019 Chinese New Year Parade earlier this month. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Bill Daley in the 2019 Chinese New Year Parade earlier this month. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Daley stands alone among mayoral candidates in his support for an amendment to change the Illinois Constitution’s pension protection clause, which states those benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

If Daley advances to the runoff against Preckwinkle, Reiter said, “We would have a better shot at building a coalition to get an endorsement” of Preckwinkle to stop Daley.

“But, it’s not necessarily guaranteed,” he said.

(Left to right) Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Andy Crooks sit at the Chicago Teachers Union Headquarters at a news conference in December. File Photo. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

(Left to right) Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Andy Crooks sit at the Chicago Teachers Union Headquarters at a news conference in December. File Photo. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Already, AFSCME Council 31 is “taking steps to educate union members and the broader voting public about the anti-worker records, wrong priorities and dangerous allies” of Daley and Willie Wilson, union spokesman Anders Lindall said.

“We want to make sure Chicago voters know that Bill Daley co-chaired Bruce Rauner’s transition team and took a million dollars from Rauner’s top funder,” Lindall wrote in an email, referring to hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin.

“Voters should also know about Daley’s record of enriching himself at the crossroads of government and business, including as CEO of SBC when he took a million-dollar bonus before laying off 5,000 workers.”

The CTU’s December endorsement of Preckwinkle came one day after the former school teacher embraced the union’s entire education agenda.

That includes: a “fully-elected” school board; a freeze on new charter schools and public school closings for the four years until that board is seated; and “real progressive revenue” to bolster neighborhood schools.

Preckwinkle has insisted that won’t compromise her ability to negotiate a new teachers contract that beleaguered Chicago taxpayers can afford.

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico doesn’t buy it.

“If you take that kind of money — that percentage of what you raise — from one or two unions, you’re bought. … Your first priority is the people [who] funded you,” Chico said.

“You’re gonna be sitting at that table negotiating with the very unions that gave [you] millions. And you’re gonna do what now in terms of labor agreements for our people? You’re gonna cave, cave, cave. You’re gonna tax, tax, tax to pay for it. I don’t care what she says. That’s exactly what’s gonna happen.”

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico was endorsed by the Chicago Firefighters Union Local #2 during his 2011 mayoral run, but he's not getting union endorsements this time. File Photo. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico was endorsed by the Chicago Firefighters Union Local #2 during his 2011 mayoral run, but he’s not getting union endorsements this time. File Photo. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Preckwinkle’s spokeswoman Monica Trevino countered, “We are proud to have the support of Chicago’s workers and teachers. Unlike Bill Daley, who relies on millions in donations from Illinois billionaires, our campaign is people driven.”

In his 2011 campaign against Emanuel, Chico had heavy labor support from police and fire unions, the operating engineers and painters. This time around, he’s flying solo.

“It was basically Rahm and me last time. It was pretty clear who … would be sensitive to issues involving labor. That was me,” Chico said.

“This time, you’ve got fourteen candidates. You’ve got a much more confused picture. I understand it. I don’t whine.”

Contributing: Rachel Hinton

Organized labor groups with an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times include the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Service Employees International Union Local 1 and SEIU Health Care, the Labor/Management Union Carpentry Cooperation Promotion Fund, the Construction and General Laborers District Council of Chicago and Vicinity and Operating Engineers Local 150.