As a self-described member of “the 1 percent of the 1 percent,” Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner doesn’t exactly have his finger on the pulse of working people, his critics say.

Nor is he a fan of unions, having spent the past few months pressing for so-called “right-to-work zones” in the state.

“What he’s doing is going to small municipalities first, promoting what he calls ‘employee empowerment zones,’” said Collinsville Local 309 Business Manager Tim Evans. These zones would exempt workers in union shops from paying their fair share toward the servicing of their collective bargaining agreements, making it more costly for unions to advocate for fair wages and benefits.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has called for so-called “right-to-work zones” across the state.

Instead of going for a statewide bill, Rauner is looking to curry influence with local groups to move right-to-work from the bottom up, rather than from the top down, Evans said.

But instead of waiting for a scenario like what happened in March in Wisconsin – where Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a right-to-work bill that was a near copy of model legislation drafted by the secretive American Legislative Executive Council – some of Illinois’ pro-worker state representatives got clever.

The Democratic majority introduced a right-to-work bill of their own, just to vote it down.

The result? After fiery debate on the House floor, it was brutally defeated: 79 against, 0 for. Most Republicans simply voted “present” or didn’t vote at all.

“If the governor is serious about the changes he is proposing, the right thing to do now is for us to bring these issues into the open and have a constructive and open discussion, vote and see what steps need to be taken from there,” Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan said in emailed statement to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Many Republicans criticized the procedure, since the legislation voted on wasn’t drafted by the governor’s office.

“What’s happening today … is a disservice to this body, to this chamber and to this building,” Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said. “I’m embarrassed to be part of this process today. I think this is a very dark moment in this body’s chamber.” Based on his votes regarding working families’ issues, Durkin has a lifetime score of 28 percent from the Illinois AFL-CIO, according to Project Vote Smart.

Evans disagreed with the GOP’s characterization of the vote. “The pro-worker lawmakers – they’re saying, ‘We’ll show you where the stance is in the statehouse.” Prior to the vote, Evans and other IBEW leaders had contacted lawmakers in their jurisdiction, which includes about 1,200 members. Of seven representatives polled, six said they would vote no – and one, Dwight Kay, who didn’t respond to the union’s request, ended up voting present.

Evans said the right-to-work zones would play havoc with working families’ wages in the state.

“It just opens it up for people from across the country doing lower wage work,” he said. “When you open the floodgates, you eventually lose things like project labor agreements and prevailing wages, and out-of-town contractors bid your jobs.”

Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan, who is also a member of Decatur Local 146, issued a statement highlighting the unpopularity of the governor’s anti-worker vision.

“Gov. Rauner's attempts to push local governments to support his agenda have fallen flat because local citizens have pushed back," Carrigan said. “Barely two dozen of the more than 1,000 Illinois municipalities have supported Rauner's anti-worker resolution, while more than twice that number have rejected or tabled it.”

Read more reporting from The State Journal-Register.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user JanetandPhil