The Illinois AFL-CIO — the massive labor organization representing nearly 900,000 workers statewide — on Tuesday endorsed JB Pritzker for governor, giving Pritzker a powerful force behind his bid to challenge Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018.

“I am honored to receive the endorsement of the Illinois AFL-CIO and the working families they represent across our state,” Pritzker said in a news release. “As governor, the labor movement will always have a seat at the table and will be a partner in our work ahead.

“I will always stand up for collective bargaining rights and prevailing wage, protect retirement security and pensions, and ensure safe working conditions and pay equity for working families.”

Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael T. Carrigan noted the endorsement of Pritzker this early in the race “is necessary in order to achieve our top priority in 2018 – defeating Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose anti-worker proposals and refusal to compromise on a budget are destroying Illinois.

“Pritzker has the vision and background to put Illinois on the right track by empowering working families, not shifting more power and wealth to corporate class,” Carrigan said.

The endorsement enables the wealthy Pritzker to further stand out in a crowded field that grew even larger Tuesday morning when state Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, announced a gubernatorial run. There are now eight Democratic governor hopefuls: Pritzker; Drury; businessman Chris Kennedy; Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th); state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston; Downstate school administrator Bob Daiber; Chicago violence interrupter Tio Hardiman, and suburban small business owner Alex Paterakis.

MARK BROWN: Unions jump the gun to endorse Pritzker for governor

Pritzker’s challengers seemed prepared for the AFL-CIO endorsement, with some sending out statements almost immediately after it was announced.

“The working people of Illinois deserve better than being told they have to support a billionaire whose family fortune was enriched by anti-union behavior,” Biss said. “As Governor of Illinois, I will always put the interest of the working men and women of Illinois ahead of money and the machine.”

“I have always been, and will always be a steadfast supporter of organized labor and collective bargaining rights,” Pawar said. “Endorsements or non-endorsements won’t change that.”