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By Bill Bianchi, Progressive Democrats of America-Illinois

Over the past year, organized labor has suffered serious sets back across the union movement’s Midwestern homeland.  In Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan the devastating 2010 election left union busting Republicans with near complete political power in state government.  They have used that power with glee to destroy public and private unions.  In Illinois however, Democrats have retained political power, so the story should be different, and it is, but it is not encouraging.  

The Wisconsin story is well known.  After winning the governor's office in 2010, Republican Scott Walker enabled by a Republican controlled state house and senate, abolished collective bargaining for government employees.  In their birth state of Wisconsin, public employee unions are now experiencing sharp membership declines.

In 2010 Ohio Republican John Kasich[1] the former Ohio congressman, House Budget Committee chair and Fox News commentator, returned to Ohio with a mission.  After narrowly winning the governor’s seat, Kasich introduced a law that would abolish the right, established in 1984, of public employees to bargain over wages, hours, working conditions, health care, and pensions.  The law also abolished the right to strike and allowed the state to permanently replace workers who do strike.  The law sailed quickly through Ohio’s Republican dominated General Assembly.

Fortunately, Ohio unions fought back, organizing a state-wide movement that, using the referendum process, succeeded in repealing Kasich’s anti-labor law.  But Ohio labor continues to face an extremely hostile state government.

In Indiana and Michigan a similar story lines have unfolded.  The 2010 elections ushered in complete Republican control of the state legislatures and governor’s offices, and this year both have passed so called “Right to Work” laws.  This legislation prohibits the automatic collection of union dues from all employees in a union shop.  With workers no longer obligated to pay union dues, union membership, revenue, and strength decline.

So in four Republican dominated Midwestern states that used to be labor friendly, unions are under serious attack.

Illinois should be different, right?

In the 2010 elections, Illinois’ Democrats, with lots of help from organized labor, neatly avoided the devastating defeats suffered by their Democratic colleagues in neighboring states.  Illinois Democrats retained control of both legislative houses and the governor’s office. And in the recent 2012 election, with even more help from labor, those majorities were extended even further.  The Democrats now enjoy veto proof majorities in both legislative houses.  But, Illinois Democrats are showing little appreciation for labor’s help.  In fact they are treating labor like an unwanted step child.

The long relationship between Illinois Democrats and organized labor has been under severe stress for over a year.  Using the financial crisis as a hammer, politicians from both parties have blamed teachers and state employees for the state’s financial crisis, portraying them as overpaid and unwilling to sacrifice.  Meanwhile, the media busily stirs up resentment against public employees among poorly paid private sector workers.

Teachers and other state employees have been asked repeatedly to make financial concessions to reduce Illinois’ budget short fall.  In particular, the state seeks to reduce pensions across the board for teachers and other state employees, not however for office holders.  This from the politicians who last year granted huge tax breaks to some of Illinois’ most profitable companies.

Over the past two months, top Democrats have turned down-right abusive toward their former partner in politics.  In Chicago top Democrat Rahm Emanuel who has been battling all year with our feisty Teachers Union, recently announced that up to 300 SEIU members who work as janitors and window washers at Ohare airport will lose their jobs just in time for the Holidays.  Ho Ho Ho!  They will be replaced by new non-union workers at lower wages, turning what are now full time, family-sustaining jobs into part-time poverty jobs. (See story here.)

And just three days before Thanksgiving, Mayor Emanuel announced that 34 full-time customer service jobs at the Water Department will be outsourced to a firm in Japan.  Just like Mitt Romney would do, full time Chicago workers will be replaced by temporary workers who receive less pay and little benefits and may not even live in Chicago.  Not sure if the laid off workers were unionized, but regardless, it sends another chilling message to those who are.

Meanwhile Governor Pat Quinn, another Democrat who won election only because of the efforts of organized labor, announced he will freeze wages of state employees, ignoring a labor contract with the state’s unionized workers that calls for 2% raises.  The Governor said the move would help ease the state’s budget problems and save $75 million.

AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer called the move “illegal and irresponsible.  Governor Pat Quinn has trampled on the collective bargaining process and broken his contract with the men and women who do the real work of state government.”

Along with that, a Democratic controlled state legislative committee voted to let the Chicago Public Schools put off announcing school closures until next March, making it more difficult from the teachers union to oppose the move.

While Illinois Democrats are not out to destroy unions as Republican are doing in neighboring states, they do seem ready to resolve the state’s financial crisis on the back of workers while also trimming back union power and their ability to organize.  If a union can’t enforce contract provisions it negotiated around raises and pensions, how can it convince workers to join?

For many years Illinois’ unions have long defended the rights of their members and their organizations through a two-pronged political strategy of simultaneously partnering with and pressuring the Democratic Party.  But events of the past year show that this strategy is growing increasingly dysfunctional.  How much longer will Illinois labor leaders pretend they are partners with Party leaders when those leaders continue to force austerity on their members and under cut union power and basic rights?  

Maybe it’s time Illinois’ union leaders stop pushing this problem aside and start dealing with it head on.  If the Democrats are no longer pro-labor, where should unions look for the political support they need to protect workers?  If they don’t soon deal with this question, unions in Illinois may soon be imperiled just as they are in our neighboring states.

[1] From 2001 to 2007, Kasich worked as an investment banker as the managing director of Lehman Brothers's Columbus office until the firm collapsed in 2008.

Originally posted to pdanoki on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 02:24 PM PST.

Also republished by Land of Lincoln Kos and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Illinois has the biggest unfunded pension (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    charliehall2, Justanothernyer, salmo

    liability in the country, don't they?  

    •  Yep... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      irate, charliehall2, Justanothernyer
      The state of Illinois faces at least $83 billion in unfunded liability between its five pension systems, and is on track to spend more on its government pensions than on education by 2016, a new study released by Governor Pat Quinn’s office says.
      And this gem....
      Illinois' structural deficit along with its huge unfunded pension liability have led to credit downgrades, with Illinois rated in the low one-letter A grades by Moody's Investors Service, the lowest level among states it rates.
    •  They very well may (7+ / 0-)

      but the problem is a revenue problem not a spending problem. Illinois has been living beyond its means partly by stealing from our pensions primarily by ignoring their portion of the funding. For anyone really interested, check out the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability: http://www.ctbaonline.org. Ralph Martire is an incredible resource speaking to truth to power. It truly is not the public employees who are to blame for Illinois fiscal problems.

      If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living. - Gail Sheehy

      by itisuptous on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 03:12:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sounds like they've been overgenerous in the (3+ / 0-)

        past w/ its pensions.

      •  Revenue Problem???????????? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        madcitysailor

        A couple of years ago IL raised the income tax by 66% on every household.  Property taxes have doubled over the past 10 years.

        In CA, Calpers, responsible for pensions of state and local workers, posted a return of 1%.  The hurdle rate is 8%.  Calpers is being "forced" to increase its allocation to private equity funds, like Bain Capital, in hopes that it may attain that 8% return.

        You say that IL has a revenue problem.

        When was the last time that public employees in ANY state or city asked for a tax one wealth.  When was the last time that municipal employees asked for Ken Griffin, resident of IL, to contribute 5% of his net worth each year?

        Instead, many public sector employees ask for property or sales tax hikes, both which are very REGRESSIVE.

        My recommendation?  If you believe that the problem is a revenue one, then ask for a tax on wealth.

        The only thing you're accomplishing by asking the working and middle-class to pick up the tab is to coalesce more support for charter schools, which are significantly cheaper to operate than public schools.

        Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project. www.hamiltonproject.org

        by PatriciaVa on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 03:43:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Illinois also had a very low income tax (4+ / 0-)

        and the politicians caught hell for raising it from 3% to 5% a few years ago.

        •  Another problem with Illinois's tax system (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          salmo, Odysseus

          The state constitution mandates that Illinois use a flat tax for state income taxes, meaning that a progressive state income tax, which many other states have, is unconstitutional in Illinois.

          Any attempt to raise or lower the state income tax in Illinois, because of the constitutionally-mandated flat tax, is politically toxic. Any tax cut would be perceived as a "tax cut for the wealthy", and any tax hike would be perceived as a "tax hike on the middle class", even though any tax cut or hike would actually effect all income levels.

          It would require an amendment to the Illinois Constitution to be enacted in order for the General Assembly to have the power to enact a progressive state income tax. Since Illinois does not allow for a constitutional amendment to be proposed via initiative, any proposed amendment would require that both houses of the General Assembly refer a proposed constitutional amendment to the people, and then at least 60% of voters would have to approve of the proposed amendment for it to become part of the Illinois Constitution. Given that most Illinois Democrats aren't all that liberal on fiscal issues, and Illinois Republicans are only interested in either eliminating estate taxes (such as Chad Hays) or grandstanding for political gain (such as Mike Bost), it probably would either require a change in attitude by the Democrats or a leftist third party (probably a newly-created Progressive Party) to gain a significant foothold in Illinois politics for that to happen.

          Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Banking Committee is a BFD!

          by DownstateDemocrat on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 04:36:09 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  As a retired teacher (9+ / 0-)

    in Illinois who paid in contributions for 33 years to a defined benefit plan that is constitutionally guaranteed, the fact that the politicians under the influence of huge money interests are ready to change the rules after the game is over is sickening. For years the state took pension holidays not paying in their share to the system creating the current problem of unfunded liability to the system and the state. Now it is a "crisis" to be solved by simply taking back the defined benefits of people who devoted their lives to educating the children of Illinois. Meanwhile Social Security benefits are dramatically reduced because participants in our qualified plan are subject to windfall/survivorship provisions. In a period of 20 years, I have gone from being a puzzlement for working for so little to being envied for my healthcare and retirement benefits. There really is no such thing as guarantee.

    If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living. - Gail Sheehy

    by itisuptous on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 02:59:49 PM PST

    •  I sympathize, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sparhawk

      if the state runs out of money you aren't going to get your pension check.

      •  Things cost what they cost. (0+ / 0-)

        The state has been systematically underfunding the pension plan for at least three decades.  They do not get to just walk away.

        My attitude might be different if they had ever tried.  But decades of failure, and then passing the buck does NOT sit well with me.

        -7.75 -4.67

        "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

        There are no Christians in foxholes.

        by Odysseus on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 02:49:17 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  If Rahm Emanuel can be called a Democrat (7+ / 0-)

    then the word has no meaning.

    The party is septic.



    Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. Rosa Luxemburg

    by chuckvw on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 03:02:11 PM PST

  •  whAT TO DO - LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY (0+ / 0-)

    AGAIN AND AGAIN WE HAVE SEEN THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY TURN ITS BACK ON UNIONS AND OTHER DEMOCRATIC VOTERS WHO HAVE ELECTED THEM EXPECTING THAT THEY WOULD ACT IN THEIR INTERESTS AS THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HAD (MOSTLY) DONE FROM THE THIRTIES THROUGH THE SEVENTIES.
    BUT IT'S APPARENT THAT THIS DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS NOT THAT DEMOCRATIC PARTY. BILL CLINTON IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OUTSOURCING AND FOR THE ELIMINATION OF GLASS-STEAGEL OBAMA HAS GIVEN US WARS, ATTACKS ON HONEST WHISTLEBLOWERS, DRONES, RAHM EMMANUEL, SIMPSON-BOWLES , NO NO REAL PUNISHMENT FOR BANKS FOR ANY NUMBER OF CRIMINAL ACTS AND A WILLINGNESS TO PUT ANY PART OF THE NEW DEAL OR LIBERAL SIXTIES LEGISLATION ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK.
    YES, HE'S BETTER THAN THE REPUBLICANS BUT THAT'S AN IMPOSSIBLY LOW STANDARD AND HIS ACTIONS AND THOSE OF MANY DEMOCRATS, BOTH NATIONALLY AND LOCALLY, HAVE BEEN AND ARE INCREASINGLY CAUSING GREATER AND GREATER SUFFERING FOR THE VERY PEOPLE WHO ELECTED THEM.
    SO - WHAT TO DO?
    I THINK THAT A THIRD PARTY, EVEN IF LED BY A RICH AND CHARISMATIC LEADER, A ROOSEVELT, SAY,  - WHICH WE DON'T HAVE ANYWAY- HAS NO REAL CHANCE OF EFFECTING CHANGE.
    I THINK, HOWEVER, THAT WE COULD USE UNION MONEY AND ENERGIZED PROGRESSIVE MONEY TO SUPPORT CANDIDATES WHO - AND ONLY THOSE WHO - WILL MAKE A PLEDGE EQUAL TO THE GROVER NORQUIST NO TAX PLEDGE ON THE RIGHT.
    WHAT WOULD SUCH A HUMANITARIAN PLEDGE (FOR THAT'S WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT) INCLUDE? IT WOULD HAVE TO INCLUDE ON SOME BOTTOM LINE LEVEL THE UNDERSTANDING OF HOW EASILY PEOPLE GOING INTO POLITICS ON THE SO-CALLED LEFT HAVE OF LATE LET THEMSELVES BE CORRUPTED. WHERE ARE THE WILLIAM FULBRIGHTS, THE WAYNE MORSES, THE FRANK CHURCHS? COMPROMISE TO GET THINGS DONE? OF COURSE, BUT NOT BEYOND A CERTAIN POINT, NOT BEYOND SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES RELATED TO HELPING THE ENTIRE SOCIETY, TO KEEPING PEOPLE FROM WANT. WE NEED COMPASSIONATE, INCORRUPTIBLE PEOPLE TO BACK WITH ENOUGH MONEY TO TAKE BACK THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY!
    OTHERWISE THE INCREASINGLY FAST SLIDE INTO BECOMING A BANANA REPUBLIC WILL CONTINUE UNABATED.
    WE CAN'T SUPPORT PEOPLE ANY LONGER WHO CAN - WITH NO FEAR OF REPRISALS - TURN ON US - AS THEY'VE DONE AGAIN AND AGAIN. I RECENTLY CALLED MY OWN SENATOR IN NEW YORK, THE POWERFUL CHARLES SCHUMER, TO EXPLAIN HOW BAD CHAINED CPI WOULD BE FOR ALL AMERICANS - AND THERE WASN'T EVEN ANYONE ON THE LINE IN HIS OFFICE TO TAKE THE MESSAGE.
    WHAT ARE OUR BOTTOM LINE PRINCIPLES AND WHO CAN WE FIND TO CHAMPION THEM?
    THIS IS A REQUEST TO CREATE A SET OF PRINCIPLES SO CLEAR AND SO COMPREHENSIVE THAT BOTH CANDIDATES AND VOTERS CAN UNDERSTAND AND BE WILLING TO FIGHT AND EVEN LOSE RATHER THAN COMPROMISE THEM AWAY.
    WHAT PRINCIPLES DO WE HERE AT KOS HAVE THAT ARE NOT FOR SALE?

    •  In New York the unions turned their back (0+ / 0-)

      on Democrats. The majority of the still-in-charge Republicans in the New York Senate were elected with union support.

    •  Do you have a solution (0+ / 0-)

      for Illinois' problems? The money just isn't there. Pensions don't mean anything when the pension checks bounce.

    •  A Third Party Can Spark Political Realignment (0+ / 0-)

      As Hang Together points out, the Democratic Party has decreased its support for the unions and the other voters who put them in office as it increases its support for pro-business, anti-union and anti-poor and working people measures. While there are important differences between the corporatist Democrats and the corporatist Republicans, they are becoming more and more difficult to distinguish. At the same time, the Tea Party is pulling the Republicans to the right. As the "lesser of two evils" the Democrats keep moving to the right as well, but are still seen as the "lesser of two evils." The question is, "When and how will this stop?"

      The appeal to the small group of progressive Democrats has not produced any real change.  While it is important to support real progressives, what is needed is an organized political force that has a program of supporting unions, working people and the poor across the board. Granted in the last half of the twentieth century, third parties have been small, often serving as special interest parties that have acted more as spoilers than as beacons of change.  But that has not always been the case.

      There are periods, like that before the Civil War, when numerous parties emerged in opposition to the established two-party system. In the late 1850s, splinter groups from these new parties coalesced into a third party, the Republicans. The rest, as they say, is history. We may stand in a similar period of political realignment. The two-party system we have is increasingly a one-party system oriented toward defending corporations and the rich at the expense of the poor. There seems to be no alternative, no route out of this dilemma. The possibility exists that an alternative party that represents the now largely unrepresented majority (99%) could cause a significant political realignment that would put the issues of organized labor, working people and the poor into the mainstream debate. The absence of these issues in the debate at this time is so glaring that it must be addressed in some way.

      The Justice Party is attempting—along with others—to be such a party. Not a spoiler, but a real party representing (as Occupy Wall Street put it) the 99 percent. It is working to organize a national party that will broaden the political debate and offer a real alternative. It is working to be the political expression of the mass movement of labor and working people. As such, it is a small and nascent effort at this time, but we are growing and developing. I believe the Justice Party deserves support from those searching for a way to defend the eroding rights of workers and the poor.

      Bruce Perry  Justice Party ###

  •  The laid off Water Dept. workers were union (0+ / 0-)

    according to the Chicago Tribune. AFSCME Local 2912. I was pretty sure they would be so I checked.

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