(Ricky Baldwin is a Senior Field Organizer for SEIU 73, activist with Jobs With Justice, and occasional contributor to Labor Notes, Z Magazine, and Dollars and Sense.)
Part One described multimillionaire Gov. Rauner’s stealth attack on the poor and working people of Illinois, targeting Medicaid, social services, prevailing wages, compensation for injured workers, labor unions, and small towns.
“By coming from great wealth, and choosing time and again to surround himself with people who share a narrow world-view of the super-rich…” – NBC Chicago 5 blogger Mark Anderson
At a candidate forum in December, Rauner proposed lowering the state minimum wage one dollar to the federal minimum $7.25. Under fire a month later, he said he had “misspoken” and advocated raising the federal minimum as long as it was accompanied by “other reforms.” Once in office, Rauner’s first state of the state address attempted to balance drastic cuts to compensation for injured workers, prevailing wage rates, and other worker protections, by raising the state minimum to $10 an hour, adding after a pause, “over seven years,” a clarification which drew unprecedented audible laughter from the Assembly floor.
Even at $10 an hour with year-round full-time hours, which are increasingly hard to come by, a worker would still fall below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four, which is already unrealistically low. Contrary to popular belief, minimum wage jobs are no longer just for high school students, but are filled increasing by older, more educated adults who lost better jobs and who have children of their own. Over half the jobs created since the 2007-08 recession have been low-wage jobs.
Son of a corporate lawyer turned Motorola senior vice president, Rauner joined the equity investment firm Golder Thoma Cressey (GTC) straight out of Harvard business school, soon making partner and changing the name to GTCR. There Rauner made tens of millions directing investments of public pensions, employee retirement plans, university endowments and foundations, reports Carol Felsenthal in the Chicago Magazine. Having cashed in and out, Rauner now proposes illegally freezing public employee pensions and continuing with more market-vulnerable 401k plans. He also made millions from a psychiatric hospital, nursing and funeral homes, debt collection, and cemeteries.
Minimum wage, injured workers compensation, prevailing rates, minimum wage, unions, and social services, all targeted by Gov. Rauner are favorite enemies of the billionaire Koch brothers and their American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy corporate-backed political brokerage that has attracted low-level controversy for providing “scholarships” to lawmakers for trips with corporate lobbyists, producing templates for corporation-friendly legislation, and other questionable practices ALEC claims are “not lobbying.”
The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity donated $10 million to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign, and ALEC drafted Michigan’s “right-to-work” bill among others. The local “right-to-work” zones idea was developed by the American City and County Exchange (ACCE), a recent off shoot of ALEC, which has been pushing the idea in nearby Kentucky, along with the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a member of ALEC-affiliated State Policy Network. The State Policy Network also runs the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which promotes charter schools and “right-to-work” laws, and is often cited by media outlets such as National Public Radio without describing its affiliation.
Members include “libertarian and conservative think-tanks” in virtually every state, including the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), a longtime recipient of donations from Bruce Rauner and a partner in school and pension “reform” with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Mayor Emmanuel has also worked with the Governor on school “reform,” that is, closing down public schools in low-income neighborhoods and promoting nonunion charter schools without the same requirements to accept with special needs or behavioral troubles. Gov. Rauner has appointed three former IPI staffers to positions in his administration.
‘He Can’t Be Bought’
Rauner, who owns nine multimillion dollar homes from a Florida villa to a Utah ski resort condo, made $25,672 an hour in 2012, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, and was able to contribute over $3.5 million to candidates since 1998 and $28 million to his own campaign, along with $37 million from donors including the wealthiest man in Illinois, hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin. Rauner’s ads bragged, “He can’t be bought,” but perhaps he is simply among those doing the buying.
Immediately after the election, Rauner developed a $20 million “war chest” to “help” Republican legislators back his agenda, according to Crain’s, with $10 million of his own and the rest from Griffin and “the Koch of conservative politics in Illinois” Schlitz Brewing heir Richard Uilein. Republican state senators and representatives soon learned the meaning of Rauner’s support, according to Capitol Fax, when Rauner met with them to discuss the “war chest” and clarified, “I want ten yes votes,” on his agenda, “not five, not seven, but ten, and anybody who doesn’t give me ten yes votes is going to have a f***ing problem with me.”
His inaugural campaign “fly-around” the state charged $25,000 for a package of four VIP tickets to the swearing-in, a couple dinners, and a concert (instead of the traditional inaugural ball), according to NBC 5 Chicago. Another $25,000 could get two tickets to a “business roundtable,” prompting concern from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform’s David Melton, who commented, “the ability to buy access with contributions is not a good thing, not a healthy thing.” If Gov. Rauner truly “can’t be bought,” then he at least knows who his base really is, and how to filter out the rest.
While blaming unions for virtually every problem in the state, from budget deficits and high property taxes to poor education and unemployment, Rauner told reporters at the Du Quoin State Fair that he is “not anti-union.” He then proceeded to suggest banning unions from political participation anywhere they have organized workers, alleging falsely that non-members in unionized worksites are “forced” to make “political contributions” to candidates with whom they disagree in violation of “free speech,” among other nonsense. By federal law, union dues cannot be donated to any political candidate or party; only voluntary contributions designated for that purpose can.
The reality behind such attacks is that working people, largely abandoned by both major political parties, have precious few options to compete on a political playing field heavily tilted towards the wealthy. The average Illinoisan, earning less in a year than Rauner paid to join an elite wine club ($140,000), has a fighting chance only by joining forces with other working people in unions. Still, the billionaire Koch brothers alone spent well over twice the combined political contributions of the ten top-spending unions in the 2012 elections, including both disclosed and undisclosed donations, according to Republic Report.
So why, if unions cannot hope to compete in political spending do Rauner and the Koch boys sweat it, one may ask. Only one answer makes sense: money is not the only source of power, on the shop floor or in politics. Wealth and power may influence elections substantially, but votes still count. And there are simply a lot more working people than super-rich – which is where unions come in. Even though over the last ten years 83 percent of the top spenders won US Senate races, and 93 percent in the House, nobody wins a real race without organizing. And by all accounts Rauner’s campaign, like the Koch brothers’ network, was and is extraordinarily well organized. But dramatic examples of underfunded candidates out-organizing far better funded ones are everywhere, including Urbana-Champaign’s own Carol Ammons. The ultimate fate of Rauner’s, and the Koch brothers’, agenda therefore remains to be seen.