Elections have consequences. And, for Illinois’ unions, the consequence of the 2014 gubernatorial election will be devastating.
In an attempt to tackle the worst fiscal crisis the Prairie State has faced in years, Gov. Bruce Rauner is walking a path forged by fellow Midwestern Republican Governors Scott Walker and Rick Snyder. The first GOP governor of Illinois in 16 years recently revealed his intention to tackle state union contracts with the aim of making the state’s economy more competitive and reducing the rising property tax burden on average state residents.
In his first State of the State address last week, Rauner proposed creating “right-to-work” zones and banning political spending from public sector unions.
“Under Illinois law, unions are permitted to collect dues from all the workers they are legally certified to represent in a given workplace. The idea is to prevent nonmembers from ‘free-riding,’ that is, receiving the benefits of a union contract without paying for the costs of negotiation and administration,” The International Business Times reported. “‘Right-to-work’ laws prevent unions from making membership automatic and collecting fees from nonmembers.”
With the state’s legislature dominated by Democrats, however, there is only so much in the way of reform that Rauner can get passed. But he is not waiting around for legislation to work its way through the legislature in order to address his state’s budget shortfall. On Monday, Rauner took a significant first step on the road to reform:
BRUCE RAUNER signed exec order: allowing state employees who wish not to support union activities to stop paying union fees.
— natasha korecki (@natashakorecki) February 9, 2015
The reaction from entrenched union interests has grown rather predictable. It is the first Republican governor who has tried to rein in his state’s union obligations, and the successes of governors like Walker and Snyder suggest that he won’t be the last.
“Our current state budget is unsustainable,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “But attacking the middle class with regressive, trickle-down policies that have failed miserably in other states is not the way to grow our economy.”
“Unfortunately, too much of the governor’s opportunity was squandered with campaign rhetoric that denigrates the reputation of the state,” [Senate President John] Cullerton said in a statement. “The people of this state elected a divided government, but the governor will soon learn that it doesn’t mean that he needs to be divisive.”
And, via IBT:
“The governor’s proposal to bar public employees from participating in our democracy would further tilt a playing field weighted heavily in favor of big business and the wealthy,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the state’s largest public sector union.
While this sounds like combative talk, statements made by House of Representatives Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) seem far more conciliatory. He has noted that “nothing is off the table” and, while urging compromise, has praised Rauner’s background in the private sector.
Perhaps Madigan knows which way the wind is blowing. Surely, more than a handful of Democrats will indulge in the fantasy of invoking Illinois’ 2010 recall election provision and attempt to succeed where Wisconsin’s unions failed. That provision was, however, passed in response to the fact that two of the last three Illinois governors are convicted felons. If public sector unions in the Prairie State are aware that they have a tarnished reputation, they won’t further bury it by trying to preserve their benefits with such a tasteless stunt. But you just never know.