Even before delivering his first budget address, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner attacked labor unions. He signed an Executive Order (EO-15-13) to prevent public-sector unions in Illinois from collecting dues from employees who would prefer not to pay them. Economists and others refer to such practice as “free-loading.”

Yet rumor has it that fiscal conservatives abhor “free-loaders.” Apparently this is selective.

When workers and management agree to a contract, all workers benefiting from the contract are represented by the union. Historically, when a worker decides not to join, the union collects a portion of membership dues. This to guarantee that the worker pays a “fair share” for the benefits all workers receive.

Not content with his executive order, Rauner filed a pre-emptive federal lawsuit declaring “fair share” fees unconstitutional. Initially, Dan Webb, chairman of the Chicago-based legal firm Winston and Strawn, jumped at the chance to handle the lawsuit “pro bono publico,” a Latin phrase meaning “for the public good.” Webb reconsidered and Gov. Rauner turned to Phil Beck to carry his water.

Beck represented George W. Bush and Dick Cheney during the Florida recount trial. That trial resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court appointing Bush and Cheney to the offices of president and vice president of the United States. Beck, with experience in unconstitutional law, also agreed to serve “pro bono publico.”

Fortunately, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger, a Rauner appointee, consulted with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, asking for her professional opinion of EO-15-13. Madigan advised Munger that “fair share” fees are constitutional under Illinois law. Munger then declared she would not follow Rauner’s order. Now we’re off to litigation land. The courts will decide the legality of such free-loading.

What other attacks on working people has Rauner proposed? Rules changes to collective bargaining to prevent public-sector workers from negotiating over wages and benefits. Rules to make labor strikes illegal. The recent strike by the Chicago Teachers Union was a blow to former investment (sic) banker, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The blow was surely noted by his fellow investment (sic) banker, Bruce Rauner. How best to respond? Eviscerate unions.

Rauner wants to create “empowerment zones” where local voters could ban “fair share” fees. This is a national strategy pushed by the anti-union American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Brothers. These zones would provide Illinois municipalities or counties the chance to turn Illinois into a Right To Work state without involving the legislature. Why should Gov. Rauner involve the legislature when he can dis-empower it and pit county against county in a race to the bottom?

Let me suggest an alternative “empowerment zone.” Let workers elect fellow workers to the boards of directors of businesses. Perhaps we’d see a return to long-term strategic planning rather than the “quick buck” approach that rentiers favor.

Gov. Rauner claims he doesn’t hate unions. That he’s misunderstood. Remember those early television commercials with his wife? Folksy. Whimsical. He’s not misunderstood. He’s the antithesis of “pro bono publico.” 

Deep down inside he’s no good.

Tom Broderick is co-chair of the Greater Oak Park chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

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