During a city council meeting this month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced a resolution to oppose Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed “Right-to-Work” zones, which would enable municipalities to enact hyper-ideological anti-union legislation on a local level. The move would be part of the governor’s so-called “Turnaround Agenda,” a series of reforms which includes prevailing wage repeal that the conservative is trumpeting in public appearances. The constitutionality of local “Right-to-Work” has been called into question.
Chicago is a city that revolves around labor, much of which is union-affiliated. And Mayor Emanuel has no patience for Rauner’s antics:
“I want to be very clear: as long as I’m mayor, Chicago will not be a right-to-work city. It’s a wrong-headed set of economic policies in the wrong direction. We’ve set out a different direction. Our goal is to build up the middle class — not to pull a rug from underneath them. Our competition is not Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky wages.”
Mayor Emanuel went on to explain that Chicago is a world-class city which has led the nation in corporate relocation two years running. He argued that the city’s highly skilled workforce is a major factor in this, and that “Right-to-Work” would lower workplace standards citywide. As he said during his news conference:
We did not do it by setting our sights on how to beat Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. Our competition is New York, London, Shanghai — other world-class cities that are like Chicago — and showing that we can actually compete and win by having an economic strategy that supports the middle-class and lifts them up.”
Opposition to the “Turnaround Agenda,” specifically the “Right-to-Work” zones, is certainly not limited to the Mayor’s office. Speaking at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez blasted Gov. Rauner and his agenda, which he deemed anti-worker. Ramirez cited a study which found that, on average, workers in “Right-to-Work” states make 6 percent less than those in states without “Right-to-Work” on the books. That number is even larger for minorities. He told the crowd:
“Right-to-work means you lose your voice in the workplace and as a result you create an easily exploitable workforce. Not only are you making less money in a right-to-work state, you are more likely to suffer an injury or fatality in your place of work.
Rauner is saying he’s empowering workers through these zones. Well what is he really empowering? Lower wages? A less safe workplace? You see much can be done to truly empower workers. Getting rid of protections unions provide does not need to be the bedrock of this type of empowerment.”
Ramirez suggests that Rauner’s proposed cuts to social services take “direct aim at the marginalized and most vulnerable segments of our society.” He added:
“It is morally wrong to hold the most needy in our society hostage in order to accomplish unnecessary labor reforms here in Illinois,” Ramirez said. “His instincts around what work looks like for a majority of men and women is also wrong.”
Video of his address appears below:
The “Turnaround Agenda” has generated tremendous backlash throughout Illinois. Some rural areas are supporting the concept, but many city and county councils are taking action to beat back or postpone Rauner’s dangerous mission.
On Sunday, the Mt. Zion Board of Trustees voted to remove the resolution from the next day’s agenda. As Mayor Don Robinson told The Herald-Review, “The resolution was taken off because we did not feel there was support for it.”
The board’s announcement drew loud applause from the audience. The “Turnaround Agenda” was originally heard on April 6th, but was immediately tabled.
Village Trustees voted to postpone a vote on the “Turnaround Agenda” citing the need for more discussion before they made decisions that would repeal the prevailing wage. The issue will be discussed again by Trustees at their May 19th meeting.
During the meeting, many local officials spoke out against prevailing wage repeal. Among them were Virgil Township Highway Commissioner Larry Peterson, who said: “The nonunion people need to wake up. They will get hurt just like union members. It’s not right.”
Village trustee Mike Millette also came out in opposition, saying, “I don’t think there really is any benefit to changing the prevailing wage act. I can’t imagine every village trying to set its own labor wage.”
Millette also berated Rauner’s budget, which would cut local governments’ share of the state income tax by 50 percent.
On April 14th, the “Turnaround Agenda” died in Libertyville without a single trustee willing to recommend it. Touching on the town’s displeasure with the resolution, Libertyville Mayor Terry Weppler said: “The governor’s office has asked that we pass this resolution as it stands. In my opinion, we can pass any resolution we want. If we want to pass a resolution to the governor, it should say what we want.”
In Mundelein, trustees voted to further discuss the resolution in private and return to the topic during an April 27th meeting. The April 13th gathering was attended by hundreds of union members who oppose the “Turnaround Agenda.” Though no decision has been made, many of the trustees voiced strong opposition to the resolution that day. Among them were Trustee Richard Moras, who touched on the questionable constitutionality of the matter:
“I swore an oath to uphold the constitution of the State of Illinois, so it would be inappropriate of me to recommend that we secede and join Wisconsin. I cannot support this. It makes no sense, and it’s plain silly.
We have no authority or insights on these topics. This is a waste of our time, and nothing more than a political grandstand.”
Libertyville Trustee Scott Adams agreed, saying: “The governor is on a fishing expedition. He’s put a scare tactic on the municipalities by pressuring them to pass it on short notice. I just can’t support that concept.”
Outcry has perhaps been the most empassioned in McHenry County, where the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 150 filed a lawsuit arguing that the county board’s decision to pass Rauner’s symbolic resolution violated the Open Meetings Act. The basis of their argument is that eight county board members attended a presentation by Gov. Rauner the day before their vote. Of those who attended the meeting, only one voted against the measure.
The lawsuit suggests that with a majority of the board in attendance, the public should have been notified of the meeting.
James Sweeney, President and Business Manager of IUOE Local 150, issued a statement, saying:
“The governor strong-armed McHenry County into passing his resolution, and he did it behind closed doors, out of public sight. The people of McHenry County are entitled to attend gatherings of its board, but in this case, they were denied. Less than 24 hours later, the board passed the resolution with overwhelming public opposition.”