Executive Director Reports

Anti-union groups sling mud and lies

Billionaires fear strong unions

Roberta LynchWe're driving them crazy! Or driving them out of town—way out! You remember…it was just four years ago that Bruce Rauner was governor of Illinois. He boasted that he was going to take away our collective bargaining rights, eliminate our pensions, get rid of our “generous” benefits.

And, of course, his biggest boast of all was that he would drastically weaken our union—driving “thousands” from our ranks—with the Janus lawsuit he sparked.

You’ll remember Rauner’s biggest boosters—the Illinois Policy Institute and its legal arm, the Liberty Justice Center. The IPI churned out reports and press releases aimed at backing up Rauner’s attacks on public employees—portraying us as lazy and overpaid. And they echoed Rauner’s claims that it was a union to blame—our’s—for all of the gains that public employees had made.

They were right about that, if nothing else. It was, in fact, when public employees—state workers, city workers, county workers and others—came together in a union to stand up for themselves and stand up together that some of the most underpaid and forgotten workers in our country in the 1950s became some of the most fairly compensated and respected by the 2000s.

We did that by forming one big union that stretched into every corner of this state; by refusing to be divided by occupation, jurisdiction, race, gender or geography; by standing up and fighting for what we deserved; and by making clear to elected officials that we would support those who stood with us and oppose those who turned their backs on us.

And yes, we did secure a decent standard of living for ourselves and our families, we did gain security and dignity in our retirement years, we did make sure we had access to affordable health care and safer conditions on the job.

Yes, we did all that. And for reasons I can never fathom, that measure of economic progress for our state’s public servants just enraged Bruce Rauner and his billionaire buddies. So much so that they poured their riches into groups like the Illinois Policy Institute—and now the Freedom Foundation—whose overriding aim is to take down our union and drive down our standard of living.

So far, it hasn’t worked out too well for them. Yes, Rauner’s surrogate, Mark Janus, prevailed at the US Supreme Court with its anti-worker majority and succeeded in making the entire public sector a “right-to-work” realm in which employees who are represented by a union can refuse to pay any dues to that union, even while benefiting from its work.

But Rauner’s fantasies of thousands upon thousands of union members heading for the doors were smashed on the rock-hard unity that led members to recommit to building our union even stronger. As it turned out, it was Rauner who headed for the door—the exit door to be precise—when he was overwhelmingly defeated for reelection.

But Bruce wasn’t our only problem. His biggest backer, billionaire buddy Ken Griffin, hung around for a few years after Rauner hustled off to Florida. Griffin’s particular obsession was public employee pensions—and he fastened on the Illinois Supreme Court as his method to eliminate them. Griffin contributed millions to defeating Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride in 2020 and laid the groundwork to elect more Republicans—believed to be reliably unsympathetic to the pension protection clause of the Illinois constitution—to the Supreme Court in the current election cycle.

Meanwhile, Rauner’s ugly progeny, the Illinois Policy Institute and its kissin’ cousin the Freedom Foundation have been furiously stepping up their game—besieging public employees of every type with their glossy anti-union mailers and their faux-friendly email messages, all but pleading with union members to “opt out.” Millions are being spent without convincing more than a handful of folks to abandon the solid wall of solidarity that has been the key force in improving financial security and working conditions for countless workers all across this state.

Now comes the billionaires’ worst nightmare of all: The Workers’ Rights Amendment, which would enshrine our right to collective bargaining in the Illinois constitution. It will be on the ballot this fall and polling shows broad public support. That’s pushing IPI off the cliff of disinformation on which it normally perches and straight down into outright lies. They are actually telling people that a vote in support of workers’ rights to stand up for job safety and fairness is a vote to raise each person’s property taxes by $2,100. How desperate and despicable can they get?

We probably don’t know the answer to that yet. Another billionaire union-hater, Dick Uihlein, just dumped a cool million into an arm of the IPI to escalate the attacks on the Workers’ Rights Amendment. Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey voted against the measure in the state senate and continues to oppose it. And the consistently anti-union Chicago Tribune recently ran an almost full-page op-ed trashing it.

Our course is clear. We need to make sure we vote “yes” for the Workers’ Rights Amendment on Nov. 8—and get our friends and neighbors to do the same. We need to continue to trash all the trashy anti-union mailers from IPI and the Freedom Foundation when they turn up in our mailboxes. And we need to maintain the unity and solidarity that are so essential to building a better future for us all.