One year ago, the head of the AFL-CIO predicted Gov. Pat Quinn could not win re-election “without making peace with the unions.”
Today, Quinn is hurtling into the crosshairs of public labor that is livid over new pension legislation signed into law last week.
“This week did not close the gap. It widened it,” AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan told the Sun-Times following Quinn’s closed-door bill signing this week. “Mr. Quinn can’t win in 2014 until he makes peace with public-sector unions.”
Carrigan’s tone reflects an incensed labor force that is preparing to wage a legal battle against that bill, SB1.
But it’s also exploring its political options.
A Sun-Times analysis finds there’s reason aplenty for unions to be angered.
The 10 biggest public-employee unions in Illinois affected by the new pension law have plowed more than $100 million into Illinois politicians’ campaigns since 2000.
The biggest beneficiary?
Quinn’s committees took in $7.4 million in union money since 2000.
That figure outpaces the now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who collected $5.4 million from those unions. Three committees controlled by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan collected more than $5 million in that same time period, while two committees controlled by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton collected almost $2 million.
“This has been a bitter pill, I have to say,” Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery told the Sun-Times. “Our members have felt that this governor has not listened to them and has not worked to gain their confidence.”
Montgomery, whose group represents 100,000 public-sector employees statewide and accounts for nearly $500,000 of public-sector money that Quinn’s collected, is exploring “all of our options” when it comes to next year’s gubernatorial race, as well as legislative races. That includes talking to members about considering backing a Republican gubernatorial primary candidate. There are two GOP contenders — Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford — who both opposed the legislation. Dillard has already been the beneficiary of $250,000 in teacher union money, according to the analysis.
Besides the valuable influx of cash that unions provide, they have another, arguably more desired weapon: foot soldiers. If members aren’t motivated to help get out the vote, it could be the difference in a close election, said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
“They certainly have a dilemma. Obviously, they can sit out an election,” Redfield said. “As close as the election was four years ago, that might end up electing a Republican.”
Asked if his members might stay home in 2014, Montgomery said:
“That is an option. Even if we don’t, it’s going to be a challenge for members to get excited,” for any candidate they feel slashed their benefits, he said. “I think all options are on the table.”
However, there is one option he unequivocally ruled out: Bruce Rauner. The Republican gubernatorial candidate who has the ear — and wallet — of fund-raising heavyweights, has waged a war with “union bosses.”
If Rauner emerges from the Republican primary, “realistically, they have nowhere to go,” but to Quinn, Redfield said of the unions.
Montgomery stopped short of writing off Quinn, saying he remained “hopeful that [Quinn] will begin to do the right things for working men and women.”
Meanwhile, AFSCME, another union that’s already endured a rocky relationship with Quinn, says its 100,000 active and retired members also are looking at their options. AFSCME has contributed $654,000 to Quinn committees since 2000.
“AFSCME members make our union’s endorsement decisions, and our members are very angry,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. “They will weigh pension votes heavily when they begin to consider candidates, at every level, in the new year.”
Quinn’s administration has made pension reform a marquee issue for the last two years, saying the state’s burgeoning pension liability was eating up more and more of the state’s budget.
The legislation agreed to by Quinn and legislative leaders would curtail annual, compounding 3 percent cost-of-living increases received by retired state workers, Downstate and suburban teachers and university employees, slowing the growth of their future annuities. The deal — projected to save $160 billion over 30 years and reduce annual pension payments by as much as $1.5 billion — also would hike retirement ages for younger workers and force some to go as many as five years without a post-retirement increase in their pensions.
“This is no easy mission for the governor, but the reason he began this in the first place was to ensure retirement security for the hard-working employees, who contributed to the system,” said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. “Was this difficult? Absolutely. But it was 100 percent necessary to provide retirement security.”
Carrigan noted that his members meet in mid-January to make endorsement decisions from U.S. Senate to Illinois House and Senate races.
“We are very unhappy this week and I predict that unhappiness will spill over into the . . . endorsement process,” Carrigan said. “It’s hard to motivate members to vote for members who are elected officials who have hurt families of working women and men. That’s a hard sell. It’s more than Quinn; the bill had to get to his desk to sign it. We’re disappointed in many House members.”
Not all labor is spurning the governor. Ronald McInroy, director of Region Four with United Auto Workers, noted that Quinn has partnered with auto union workers to help boost the number of shifts at auto plants in Illinois.
“He’s worked with us on each of every one of those plants to secure jobs in this state,” McInroy said.
Contributing: Art Golab