DECATUR — Gov. Bruce Rauner ramped up anti-union rhetoric Tuesday, calling for “right-to-work zones” and taking aim at proposals that would keep wages above a certain level in state and local contracts.
Rauner spoke to an audience of students at Richland Community College in Decatur, laying out the state's dismal financial situation and the factors he said are making it worse. The talk came as the Winnetka Republican prepares to give his first State of the State address Wednesday.
While Rauner said he would not advocate that Illinois become a right-to-work state, he said local voters should be able to choose what he called “employee empowerment zones” over “forced unionization.” Doing so could make those communities competitive with surrounding states, leading to more jobs and income growth, he said.
“Communities that want to have unions and encourage them, and force members and workers to join them, you can choose to. You can decide that. And if the communities don't want to do that, they want to compete with Indiana and Michigan and et cetera, they can choose that,” Rauner said. “I believe the local voters should be able to decide these issues.”
He also took aim at prevailing-wage requirements for state contracts and project labor agreements, saying they are the product of unions buying political influence and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and prevent it from doing more for infrastructure and education.
As he has previously, Rauner also advocated changes that he said would help the state's business environment, saying Illinois is not competitive in terms of workers' compensation, unemployment insurance and litigation.
He said the state must “change the fundamental nature” of its pension system, described property taxes as “punishingly high” and highlighted an increase in Medicaid spending even as the state's population has remained stable.
Later in the day, Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan fired back, saying Rauner's “attack on the middle class” would be vigorously opposed by organized labor and its supporters.
Carrigan cited a 2013 University of Illinois labor education program report that predicted making Illinois a right-to-work state would decrease earnings by 5.7 percent to 7.3 percent over time.
“We suspected all along that Bruce Rauner would go back to his roots as a mega-wealthy corporate CEO and force the tired philosophy of increasing the bottom line on the backs of the workers,” Carrigan said. “I haven’t seen any proposals from him on increasing Illinois’ low corporate income tax or closing big-business loopholes. Where is his shared sacrifice?”