There’s been one theme that’s come up day-after-day at the Illinois delegation’s morning events this week in Philadelphia: Bruce Rauner’s stance on unions.
The Illinois governor has advocated for a number of policies in the legislature, in court, and in contract negotiations - that labor unions see as a threat to their very existence.
And this week - Illinois Democrats have heard about that fight over and over. Tony Arnold reports.
Illinois Democratic delegates have heard from - by my count - 20 union leaders during breakfasts this week.
And I can’t play you just one clip from one of these speakers to give you an idea of what they’ve been saying all-week-long about Governor Bruce Rauner. There’s just too much to pick from.
JORGE RAMIREZ: - Does Gov. Rauner sound familiar to you? Does he sound like Donald Trump to you?
ERIC DEAN: - We fell asleep at the switch and elected a rich, disconnected bastard for governor of this state.
TERRY O’SULLIVAN: - I don’t know what else I can say about your governor. Excuse my French, I think I saw all the kids (leave), I think your governor’s a jackass to tell you the truth.
J. DAVID COX: - We’re gonna open up one gigantic can of WHOOP ASS on Donald Trump and every Republican in this country.
It’s been like this all week.
Except for the profanity. I did single out the profanity. But there is an over-arching point.That unions hate Rauner.
And not just Illinois unions. But national unions - the ones that work in Washington, D-C.
They’re big organizations that watch labor policies nationwide - and they’ve zoomed in on Rauner.
Now, one union leader who’s addressed the Illinois Democratic delegation this week stands out. Lee Saunders leads the union AFSCME at the federal level. And AFSCME Local Council 31 represents about 36 thousand Illinois state government workers.
LEE SAUNDERS: - The state of Illinois for our members is Ground Zero. Make no mistake about it: When we engage in battle, AFSCME engages in battle. We aren’t letting anyone stomp on the rights of our members across the state of Illinois.
AFSCME and Rauner are in the middle of a big contract fight. To put it simply - Rauner says the union’s demands are unaffordable. And the union says Rauner wants to destroy workers’ rights.
Illinois state workers who are AFSCME members - have been told to prepare for a strike.
LEE SAUNDERS: - And if Council 31 goes on strike, I want to make this real clear: An attack on them is an attack on our national union and we’re gonna fight like hell to protect our members.
ED SMITH: - Hey it’s so easy. Why are they coming after unions? It’s a two-fer. ‘Cause when you get unions, you get the Democrat Party.
That’s Ed Smith - with Union Labor Life Insurance Company. He spelled out in no uncertain terms that union members double as precinct workers for the Democratic Party. And make phone calls for Democrats. Knock on doors for Democrats. Contribute money to Democratic candidates - and even paid for a delegate breakfast buffet in Philadelphia this week.
And those Democrats - respond by treating some of these union leaders like rock stars. Outside one of the breakfasts…Mary Kay Henry - president of SEIU - the Service Employees International Union…couldn’t walk down the hall without state lawmakers posing for pictures with her.
MARY KAY HENRY: - We now see Illinois as a state where we need to nationally help make sure that this ‘16 election is used as a stepping stone to make sure we that get Rauner out of office in ‘18.
A spokeswoman for Governor Rauner responded to this week’s rhetoric. The statement reads:
“These comments demonstrate the lack of judgment and reasonableness of the leaders who are marching our state workers toward a September 1 strike."
National union leaders could care less about Illinois’s state employees or our worst-in-the-nation economic situation.
These national union leaders want to stir up unrest in Illinois so they can use our workers to fundraise for their national organizations.
Apparently local labor leaders are willing to let their own members be used in that way and that is wrong.”
Meantime - Rauner’s top nemesis - Michael Madigan, who is both the Illinois state House Speaker and the state’s Democratic Party chairman - has been praised up and down this week by union leaders for standing up to Rauner. Especially the union leaders who work more in Washington, D-C than Springfield, Illinois.
MADIGAN: - The extremism of Governor Rauner is known all across America. He’s easily identified with the extreme Right in the Republican Party and the extreme Right in the nation.
And after this week - this whole fight between Rauner and Madigan, business interests against unions - seems to be going toward the governor’s race in 2018 - and not some kind of compromise. Sucking in things like - passing a complete state budget into its orbit.
As both Rauner and Madigan get strong encouragement - and even praise - from the people in their corners