Remember the protests in Wisconsin four years ago? When thousands of union members and their allies flocked to Madison?
Somewhere in that crowd, at least, the one that gathered in the winter of 2011, was Mark Guethle.
“It was cold. Hat and gloves. I’m used to cold weather so we’re good,” Guethle recalled. “My colleagues and I were out there and we supported what the labor movement was doing at the time.”
Guethle, with Painters District Council 30, is from Aurora in Chicago’s western suburbs. He traveled to Wisconsin because he feared if policies he saw as anti-union could happen there, they could happen here.
This, at a time when Wisconsin lawmakers who hated that law so much, fled: They came to Illinois to avoid taking a vote, so Wisconsin Republicans couldn’t get a quorum.
That was when Illinois was a blue state. Now, it’s run by Rauner, a Republican.
“You got a governor who’s running his anti-worker agenda,” Guethle said.
He’s referring to what Gov. Bruce Rauner calls his “Turnaround Agenda.”
“A key part of our agenda: In your city, in your county, in your schools, you should decide what gets collectively bargained. Springfield shouldn’t tell ya,” Rauner said recently as part of his tour of the state in which he gives campaign-stump-speech-style overviews of his priorities to small audiences.
It has Illinois union leaders, who will have to negotiate contracts with Rauner, very upset.
“We haven’t heard him give one concrete idea, one actual solution to helping Illinois’ problems,” said Dan Montgomery, head of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “Instead, he’s focused maniacally on attacking working people. It’s unbelievable.”
Montgomery said Rauner’s plan signals that the governor would prefer to have chaos, rather than govern the state. Like what happens when Rauner asks local governments to pass a resolution that in-part embraces so-called right to work laws?
“It’s a circus,” he said. “It’s a circus because this governor knows it’s illegal. So he’s spending his time going around trying to shill and sell this snake oil that he knows is illegal. So why does he continue to do this?”
“I think he’s looking for some way to build some support for his side of the bargaining table when he sits down with the leaders in Springfield,” said Joe Gottemoller, the chairman of the McHenry County Board northwest of Chicago.
The McHenry County Board recently approved Rauner’s non-binding resolution that’s angered unions so much. Gottemoller doesn’t dispute that Illinois law does not yet allow for some of Rauner’s agenda, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to change the law.
“I’m not anti-union despite what they might say about me; but I’m really not,” Gottemoller said. “I have unions to thank for me getting through college. But I also know that it doesn’t do anybody any good to be an unemployed carpenter.”
Gottemoller said McHenry County, which is right on the border of Wisconsin, is on the front lines of this labor fight. And he said growth and development in the county has slowed tremendously since 2008.
Gottemoller said he needs tools to compete with Illinois’ neighbors—and this resolution from the governor is a start. But even Gottemoller admits it’ll be a long-time coming before these policies could actually be enacted. After all, a lot of Democratic and Republican lawmakers support labor, and vice versa.
So how do any of Rauner’s plans get approved?
Guethle, the painter’s union official who protested in Wisconsin, said he’s got his eye on Rauner’s campaign finance committee and a new Political Action Committee created by some of Rauner’s allies. Guethle’s trying to play the long game, much beyond these first 100 days, to see which 2016 candidates Rauner’s going to be putting his money behind.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.