Right-to-work loses in Illinois house, heads for Missouri veto

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (PAI) – In a huge rebuke to right-wing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s anti-worker agenda, the Democratic-run Illinois House voted his so-called right-to-work bill down, 72-0. While 37 state House Republicans, following Rauner’s orders, voted present, another four didn’t vote at all. One, Raymond Poe, joined the Democrats in opposing RTW.

The May 18 loss was a resounding defeat for the anti-worker forces nationwide, which are scheming to cut workers’ wages, destroy their unions, and trash their rights. RTW forces are also apparently headed for another setback: The GOP-run Missouri legislature approved a RTW bill, but Gov. Jay Nixon (D) plans to veto it – and bipartisan minorities collared enough votes in both the state House and state Senate to uphold his veto.

The Missouri and Illinois legislative pushes are part of a nationwide campaign by the radical right, business and their right wing Republican puppets to emasculate workers’ rights and unions, reduce wages to poverty levels and destroy opposition to the corporate agenda.

So-called right-to-work laws ban unions from inserting provisions for dues collection, or, for non-members a contract covers, agency fees collection, into any collective bargaining agreement. The object of such laws is to defund unions and workers, driving unions broke.

Other pieces of that campaign include repeal of prevailing wage laws, destruction of project labor agreements, cutting collective bargaining rights and emasculating teacher tenure.

Union leaders made it clear that defeating RTW was a top labor cause this year.

“We expect a ‘No’ vote,” one Illinois Education Association (IEA) lobbyist told statewide political commentator Rich Miller. “Show that you are supportive of the middle class. A vote to the contrary and they will have to explain themselves to our members.”

In a blog after reading that, commenter Hedley Lamarr added: “It’s time for the IEA to realize that the Illinois GOP is not their friend.”

And Illinois AFL-CIO President Mike Carrigan told statehouse reporters that, “Anything but a solid ‘No’ vote, will not be tolerated and will be considered as an inexcusable vote against labor.”

Carrigan also specifically said that “Present” votes weren’t acceptable. Skipping the vote wouldn’t help. “Absences will be reviewed with suspicious eyes,” Carrigan warned.

Knowing he would lose in Democratic-run state legislature, Rauner has been touring Illinois, urging local governments to enact their own RTW statutes, with a notable lack of success. But he hasn’t introduced state legislation yet to let them do so.

His latest loss was in Franklin County, in the state’s southernmost “Little Egypt” area. An overflow crowd of workers and unionists led the county board to move its meeting from its normal chamber to the courthouse, before unanimously defeating a RTW statute and passing a “resolution to protect the middle class.” The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

That measure, adopted by a board in the heart of Illinois’ coal country, says governments have no authority to pass Rauner’s local right-to-work zones. It also rejects Rauner’s demand to demolish prevailing wage requirements. The Franklin board’s resolution declares, instead, that organized labor is an “historic cornerstone of the American middle class.”

“Rauner’s attempts to push local governments to support his agenda have fallen flat because local citizens have pushed back,” Carrigan said in a prepared statement after the Franklin County vote on May 19. “Barely two dozen of the more than 1,000 Illinois municipalities have supported Rauner’s anti-worker resolution, while more than twice that number have rejected or tabled it.”

Over in Missouri, 64 of the 163 state representatives opposed RTW, the St. Louis Labor Tribune’s tally showed. They included 41 Democrats, 22 Republicans and an independent. The 21-13 Senate RTW vote included four state senate Republicans. Both minorities are numerous enough to uphold Gov. Nixon’s planned veto.

The Missouri bill was so extreme that it contemplated 15-day jail terms and unlimited civil penalties for union and business officials that violated it. Nixon said the bill is dead.

“Cooperating doesn’t mean compromising on your principles,” he said while reviewing the session’s results. “And when the General Assembly passes legislation that would take our state backwards, like they did this past week, I won’t hesitate to use my veto pen to protect the interests of the people of Missouri.

“The bill to make Missouri a so-called ‘right-to-work’ state would stifle our economic growth, weaken the middle class-and even subject Missouri employers to criminal and unlimited civil liability. I’ll lay out my objections in greater detail in my veto message, but it’s clear that attacking workers and threatening businesses is the wrong economic development strategy for our state and it’s not what Missourians sent us here to do.”

Union members in Missouri tried to head off RTW before the state’s GOP majority passed it, but they were unsuccessful.

“There are approximately 1,000 union members here today,” UFCW Local 655 President David Cook told state senators, gesturing to a standing-room-only crowd during a hearing on the legislation before the votes. “Where are the union members that are in favor of it? They’re not out there! This is nothing more than a corporate power grab.”

The St. Louis Labor Tribune contributed material for this story.

Photo: UFCW Local 665 lobbying team at the capitol building in Jefferson City, Missouri, to fight for workers rights. Facebook


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.