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Labor unions in Illinois nervously awaiting November

America’s union is under assault. And I don’t mean the republic for which it stands.
Dennis Grubaugh    Labor organizations today find themselves boxed into a corner after a few very vexing months of major losses. Now, one of the most illuminating examples of vexation is happening in Illinois, in the current race for governor.
    Never have union bosses’ concerns been quite so apparent as was the Illinois Education Association’s in the days before the state primary, when members actively encouraged their Democratic party base to vote Republican in the governor’s race — specifically for candidate Kirk Dillard. The idea was, get Dillard nominated — and make it easier for Pat Quinn to win in the general election.
    Didn’t work. The GOP candidate the unions feared most, Bruce Rauner, won the primary and will face Democratic incumbent Quinn in November, in a race that’s already picking up strong political party interest across the nation.
    The stage is set: A millionaire businessman bent on fighting what he calls corruption, overspending and the status quo is running against a practiced populist who professes the need for change.
    They are both good sparrers who have come out swinging, and the state’s voters have a front row seat to one of the best bouts in a long time.
    Illinois public unions who are already upset with potential pension reforms don’t want further setbacks. They also don’t want to follow the fate of their brethren across the country, who lately have lost much ground:
    – In mid-February, United Auto Workers suffered its most serious loss in years when Tennessee factory workers rejected unionizing a Volkswagen assembly plant.
    – Days later, in St. Louis, Boeing workers agreed to massive concessions in their latest long-term contract with the International Association of Machinists, after workers in Seattle narrowly agreed to a contract that Boeing said was take it or leave it. The implication was clear, Boeing was ready to go elsewhere to do its business. In the end, union leaders in St. Louis had an uncomfortable choice: support a contract or risk massive layoffs. So much was the alienation that some 30 percent of the 2,400 workers in St. Louis abstained from the vote.
    Public unions are over a barrel like no time in the history of organized labor. And in Illinois they fear Bruce Rauner is another Scott Walker.
    It was Walker, as governor of Wisconsin, who in 2011 rammed through massive budget cuts that led to a recall vote that he survived. Today, he’s looked upon as one of the GOP’s darlings, a stalwart of conservatism who stands up to factions in the name of the people.
    Rauner seems a lot like Walker, and it scares the collective bargaining bejeebers right out of union folk.
    Rauner, of course, may be nothing like that, since he’s still an unknown commodity to most people. He made his money as a venture capitalist and brags about being beholden to no one. He survived the primary and is a pretty scrappy fellow. But professing change and enacting it are frequently different things.
    Meanwhile, Quinn is no political slouch. He got where he is as a solid backer of the working class.
    Watch carefully the words of each candidate between now and November. It will give you an idea of whether each is capable of generating the kind of cooperative air that’s going to be needed to get Illinois out of its fiscal hole.
    Watch, too, to see how much money unions are willing to pour into this campaign in the name of their own progress.
    Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 977-6865.

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