Rauner itching for a fight with organized labor
By Richard Berg |
January 19, 2016
Excerpts from Fight Back News
News and Views from the People’s Struggle
Chicago, IL – Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner abruptly broke off contract negotiations with the more than 37,000 State of Illinois union workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31. Rauner refused to negotiate any further, giving workers the ultimatum of a “last, best and final offer.”
“This is insulting,” said AFSCME Local 2858 President Diane Stokes, “Rauner is offended that workers, through their unions, dare to challenge the power of the one percent. Since getting elected, he only has one policy initiative – destroying unions to drive the standard of living of all workers into poverty.” Stokes works full time for the Illinois Department of Human Services helping the state’s poor get needed health care, food and money to survive.
The lead negotiator for AFSCME Council 31 is Executive Director Roberta Lynch who said, “Governor Rauner is wrong to walk away and try to end negotiations. Public-service workers who keep us safe, protect kids, respond to emergencies and care for the most vulnerable want to keep serving their communities, and they want to do their part to reach a fair agreement, but we can’t do it alone.”
Rauner has made it clear from the time that he was running for governor that he was itching for a fight with all of organized labor and most especially AFSCME. He praised former President Ronald Reagan for forcing air traffic controllers to strike and then firing all of them. Similarly, he said that he wanted to repeat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union and anti-worker policies in Illinois.
After getting approval from the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB), Rauner can implement proposals which would give Illinois AFSCME members the worst health insurance of any state workers in the country, dropping far below state workers in Georgia and Mississippi, who now are at the bottom. ILRB members are appointed by the governor. Four of the current five members were appointed by Rauner.
Rauner’s “last, best and final proposal” will freeze workers’ wages for four years including freezing step increases. Instead he would give bonuses based on unknown criteria. Some believe he wants to go back to the days of patronage when Illinois governors gave wage increases based on political loyalty such as working precincts or donating money to the incumbents. Others think that it is a way to cultivate and bribe stool pigeons and scabs to work against the union.
The worst of Rauner’s over 200 extreme demands from workers might be his proposal to allow an unlimited ability to subcontract union work. This has led to disasters in prisons, disasters in healthcare and disasters in virtually every agency in states across the country. “We are not going to take this,” said President Diane Stokes, “AFSCME members are prepared to do whatever it takes to get a fair deal.”
For AFSCME to win this battle, they will need to gain wide public support, as the Chicago Teachers Union was able to do during their 2012 strike. They will need the support of organized labor, the people who use state services, community organizations, religious leaders and people of conscience. One such leader is Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery, who immediately responded, “Governor Rauner’s actions today prove once again that his priority is forced conflict, not progress. The 100,000 workers of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, some of whom are also state employees, are proud to stand with AFSCME as we face a deceptive and irresponsible Governor willing to use middle-class families, the most vulnerable, and our students as a wager in his fanatical game.” Montgomery continued, “This is an ideological obsession unfit for a state leader forcing chaos to enact a reckless and unpopular agenda.”
AFSCME has not ruled out legislative action, but they are also looking at other actions including a possible strike. Rauner is one of the richest men in the world. We should not be surprised that his actions serve the class of wealth. Now is the time for the working class in Illinois to come together. Whether we wanted this fight or not it is here. Let’s go win it for ourselves, our families and workers everywhere.