Gov. Rauner saw ‘wedge issue’ of unions vs. services


By Bernard Schoenburg, Political Writer at the State Journal Register – Posted October 24, 2015 at 10:29 p.m.

A couple years before he was elected, Gov. BRUCE RAUNER talked about a strategy to lessen union influence, and associated costs, on government.

Rauner was among panelists at a 2012 tax policy conference in Chicago, sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute. Moderator MARGARET SPELLINGS, former U.S. secretary of education, asked him how people could build a “political constituency for change.”

The panel discussion was highlighted in stories last week by BRIAN MACKEY of Illinois Issues and Illinois Public Radio.

“We will crush our economy if we try to spend money on both high-cost, inefficient, bureaucratic, heavily unionized government and a social safety net to help the disadvantaged,” Rauner said.

“We can’t afford both,” he said, and “wealth creators,” like JIMMY JOHN LIAUTAUD, founder of Jimmy John’s sandwich shops and another panelist, would be forced to leave the state.

“I think we can drive a wedge issue in the Democratic Party on that topic and bring the folks who say, ‘You know what, for our tax dollars, I’d rather help the disadvantaged, the handicapped, the elderly, the children in poverty,’ ” Rauner said, instead of directing tax dollars to the Service Employees International Union or “AF-Scammy,” an apparent reference to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME for short.

He said the unions are “out there for their own interests,” and the “crushing” price includes pensions, pay, “outrageous health care costs” and work rules.

“We can’t hire good people into government because they have to have worked their way up in the AF-Scammy system,” Rauner said. “The whole structure of union control of our government has got to change.”

Liautaud, whose Jimmy John’s brand has grown to more than 2,000 stores, predicted at that conference that he would move the business to Indiana or Texas “in two to four years.” It is still headquartered in Champaign.

“I don’t mind the 5 percent Illinois tax” or federal taxes that have to be paid, Liautaud said. “But how they spend the tax is what’s really driving me away. … We make it a dime at a time, and they just flush it down the toilet.”

Also at that conference, which came near the end of a strike by Chicago Public Schools teachers, Rauner discussed teachers unions, which he said are different from teachers and concentrate on getting better pay and benefits.

“Most teachers care deeply about their students” and are hardworking and “highly effective,” he added.

But he said, “It’s the weak teachers, it’s the lousy, ineffective, lazy teachers, and unfortunately there are a fair number of those … that the union is protecting.”

DAN MONTGOMERY, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said in a prepared statement that Rauner’s comments were “disgusting but not surprising.”

Page 2 of 3 –  “It’s no wonder that someone so wrapped up with hate and divisiveness isn’t able to lead this state with a positive vision,” Montgomery said.

ROBERTA LYNCH, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, which represents between 38,000 and 40,000 state workers, said she viewed Rauner’s comments as “really an opposition to state employees themselves” and their ability to make a “decent wage” and have a “middle-class life.”

She also said it creates a false impression to talk of state workers as bureaucrats at odds with social services. She said the state pays workers, not their unions. Front-line state workers provide important services involving Medicaid and food stamps, staff prisons, and handle child abuse complaints, she said.

“I can’t tell if it’s just a lie to attempt to trick people who are listening to him or if he really is so woefully ignorant of what state employees really do,” Lynch said of Rauner’s arguments.

“There’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that we’re not hiring high-quality employees,” Lynch added. She said the union was a “prime factor” in eliminating cronyism from many job placements.

JAMES MUHAMMAD, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said that in business and as governor, Rauner has “a bias for the powerful against the weak, the rich against the poor.

“Illinois has not had a governor in modern times with such an ideological hatred for unions,” Muhammad said.
Rauner has repeatedly said he is not anti-union, and he has donated millions of dollars to schools and charities.

The state is in its fourth month of the new fiscal year without a budget, and social service agencies that contract with the state are cutting back services and laying off employees.

Rauner wants elements of his “turnaround agenda” passed before he will agree on a budget with Democrats who control the General Assembly and who admittedly passed a budget not yet in balance. They have said they want to work with the governor on cuts and revenue.

Rauner’s agenda includes term limits, legislative redistricting reform, lawsuit reform, workers’ compensation reform, and a property tax freezemixed with the right for local governments to decide whether they will collectively bargain with their workers.

Rauner told reporters in Springfield last week that with his proposals, he is “not stripping away collective bargaining from anybody, period.”
“What I’m saying is let local communities decide how they handle these issues,” he said.

Rauner in June did propose a pension reform plan that would provide consideration — meaning workers could choose among plans — but would also prohibit unionized public employees from negotiating over wages, vacation time, holidays, work schedules, pensions and tenure.

Page 3 of 3 – LANCE TROVER, a spokesman for Rauner, said the governor was talking about his property tax freeze bill last week when discussing allowing local communities to decide. As for the pension plan, Trover said it’s similar to ideas that Senate President JOHN CULLERTON, D-Chicago, has proposed to include consideration in a pension fix.

RIKEESHA PHELON, a spokeswoman for Cullerton, said, “The idea that fundamentally changing collective bargaining rights should be part of that consideration is a complete bastardization of the Cullerton model.”

Trover said “dozens of topics” would remain subject to bargaining under the governor’s plan, including discipline, performance evaluations, work assignment rules and subcontracting.

Rauner has lamented the effects of the cuts and says Democrats need to compromise.
“The longer the legislature takes, the more people will suffer,” he has said.

But Democrats say changes Rauner wants would hurt the middle class.

“Our last three governors have been complete disasters,” Rauner said in 2012. “But the good news is things have gotten so bad that I hope the voters and the taxpayers are ready to revolt.”

Voters did choose, as Rauner’s campaign theme put it, to “shake up Springfield.” Where all that shaking will lead is still a question.

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