Rauner’s union battle in black and white
By Monroe Anderson
If anything can that raise a Republican’s ire almost as much as a Black man in the White House, it’s labor unions.
So few should have been surprised when the new Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, came up with an ingenious initiative to further weaken the state’s labor unions.
During last week’s State of the State address, Rauner said he would like to see “empowerment zones” in counties across the state where voters would decide whether unions could exist and workers should be obligated to pay associated dues. Given the governor’s party affiliation and the fact that he’s a one percenter, it’s easy to guess who he is zeroing in on empowering and who he’s zoning out.
Making the standard-issue, corporation-coddling Republican argument that the smaller the union presence, the greater the number of jobs, on Monday, Rauner signed Executive Order 15-13, which denies labor the right to deduct dues from state employees who benefit from union activities but don’t want to pay to support them.
As our newly constituted Congress is reaffirming, Republicans may be lousy at governing but they are masters of code wording, dog whistling and name-calling.
When the GOP set out to do some serious union busting by stripping organized labor of its funding, power and influence, for example, the words destruction and dismemberment were spoken mainly in quiet rooms while those southern states and Midwestern ones where Republicans ruled went about their dirty deeds. Instead, Republicans insisted these would be “right-to-work” states.
Rauner is just the latest of Republican governors, who after immediately taking office, has made it his mission to kneecap the unions. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was not halfway through his first term when he signed a bill making Michigan the 24th right to work state in the nation. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has forged his anti-union alchemy into gold by cutting the collective bargaining rights of most of his state’s public unions and transforming himself into one of the current shiny objects among the potential 2016 Republican presidential nominee contenders.
Like Rauner, both Walker and Snyder asserted that their union body slams would mean more jobs for their states. So far, the reasons for Michigan’s modest job increases are debatable and Wisconsin’s job growth has been so slow that Walker grasped at one of the right wing’s threadbare straws blaming it on Obamacare.
Union jobs have always been considered “good jobs.” They have also been good for America. Whether it’s the 40-week, paid vacation, pensions, health insurance or higher wages, over the decades labor unions are directly and indirectly responsible for raising the standard of living for millions but cutting into the precious bottom lines of corporations as people and the people who over-reward themselves for running them. Labor unions also fail to endear themselves with Republicans by being important campaign contributors for the Democrats.
Unfortunately, for Black Americans, we find ourselves between the labor unions and a Republican place.
One out of every five working Blacks are government employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, When the Republican’s national obsession with austerity was running at fever pitch six years ago, governors across America reduced their state’s payroll through mass layoffs of state employees. African Americans, who are overwhelmingly Democrat, took a disproportionate hit, becoming the most fired and at risk of being the least rehired.
From the beginning of the Great Migration until now, it’s been a continuous struggle for African Americans in Chicago to get either contractors or the labor unions to cut them in on the action. When black skilled craftsmen, who had come from generations of bricklayers from the south, moved north, by edit, union bosses blocked them from working on the best jobs.
History has stubbornly repeated itself. Lilly-white trade unions have been as much a part of the wink and nod society as the boardrooms they take on. Both have been almost exclusively populated with white men. Both have been perfectly satisfied with that chummy arrangement for far too long.
Even now, too often when you see construction companies at work on big projects throughout Chicago, you don’t see a crew that looks like the residents of the city. Even with the implementation of set-aside programs, you don’t see big black construction firms getting their fair share of the jobs.
Of course all unions are not alike but the battle between the governor and the unions may not be an easy one for Blacks in Illinois to join. It may simply be a case of going with the devil we knew or the devil we’re getting to know.