Yesterday Republican Bruce Rauner won the race for Illinois governor, an outcome that, unfortunately, may signal considerable turmoil ahead for working families and retirees across the state.
Rauner campaigned for months on outright hostility to the right of workers to join together in unions to bargain for decent wages and benefits, particularly in the public sector. His late-campaign attempts to tone down his rhetoric can’t erase the vitriol of those earlier attacks or his open admiration for union-busting governors like Scott Walker and Mitch Daniels.
Rauner’s antagonism brought union members by the thousands together in an unprecedented display of solidarity and coordination. For months, AFSCME members and retirees volunteered their evenings and weekends to educate voters about Rauner’s real agenda. Together with the teachers, service employees, construction trades and other unions under the banner of the state AFL-CIO, we made more than 1 million contacts at voters’ homes and by phone. We can be proud of our work and certain that without it, the election would barely have been competitive.
In the end, however, our efforts were unable to overcome several critical handicaps. One was Rauner’s tidal wave of campaign cash – including $26 million of his own personal fortune – that allowed him to drown voters in attacks on Quinn and platitudes about himself while evading serious questions about his character, business record and policy plans. Another was Quinn’s deep unpopularity among a wide swath of voters.
One thing is certain, though: The final tally in the governor’s race should by no means be taken as an indication that Illinois residents embrace Rauner’s values or his aims – especially his goals of eliminating pension benefits altogether or wiping out collective bargaining rights.
Bruce Rauner has opposed both higher wages for workers and higher taxes for the wealthy. But yesterday Illinois voters enthusiastically endorsed both. Nearly 70% of voters backed measures calling to improve public school funding through a higher tax on incomes over a million dollars and to raise the minimum wage – far more support than for any one candidate. It’s clear that most Illinoisans are much closer to the labor movement’s call to rebuild an economy that works for all citizens than to Rauner’s commitment to aid big business and the rich.
How Rauner’s shifting rhetoric on the campaign trail translates to governance remains to be seen. If he shows that he values working people, respects our right to have a voice through our unions and truly seeks to find common ground, he will find that AFSCME is not a partisan organization. After all, our union has been the strong voice of and for public employees for more than 40 years, nearly a quarter-century of that time under Republican governors. We’re prepared to work constructively with anyone who wants to strengthen and improve public services and who respects the employees who provide them.
But if he intends to carry out an assault on the right of workers to bargain collectively, if he tries to carry out his pledge to provoke a strike and shut down government, if he sets out to undercut the decent pay, affordable health care and workplace rights our contracts provide, or if he attempts to sell off public services for private profit, we will be ready to stand together and defend our rights, our families and our communities.
I know that many of you poured your heart and soul into the effort to ensure that organized labor would not face the same onslaught in this state that it has in Wisconsin and Indiana. You knocked on doors, made phone calls, talked to your friends and families, and helped to bring out the vote yesterday. It wasn’t enough to overcome the odds in this one very tough battle. But it was enough – and then some – to lay a much stronger foundation for whatever challenges the future may hold.