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In Illinois, the Anti-Worker Fraternity Gets a New Member in Quinn

by Anders Lindall and Cynthia McCabe  |  December 18, 2012

Chicago protest
AFSCME members and supporters march in protest of Gov. Pat Quinn’s attacks on workers’ rights. (Photo by Dave Miller)

At a glance, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn may not seem to have much in common politically with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Quinn is a Democrat and the others are staunch Republicans. But in recent months, Quinn has joined their ignoble fraternity: governors intent on attacking workers’ rights and scapegoating public service workers.

In an unprecedented move in November, Quinn terminated the state government’s contract with AFSCME Council 31. (Previously, Council 31 members were working under a contract extension while negotiations on a new agreement continued.) The termination had little practical effect--all terms of employment are still in place under state law--it signaled Quinn’s lack of respect for collective bargaining. And in doing so, he lumped himself with the likes of Walker and Snyder.

“In 40 years of collective bargaining, Pat Quinn is the first and only Illinois governor to terminate a union contract,” AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said. “His action will heighten employee frustration and provoke instability in the workplace.

Quinn’s decision to nullify the union contract follows his refusal to pay a negotiated wage increase due in the last year of the contract. An independent arbitrator found Quinn in violation of the contract and ordered him to pay, but the administration went to court seeking to overturn the arbitrator’s ruling. Earlier this month, a circuit court ruled that the contract must be honored.

In recent months, Quinn has also launched a full-blown assault on public employee pensions, attempting to portray them as “extravagant” and blaming them for the state’s fiscal woes. In fact, the real problem is the state tax system that favors big business and the rich.

Fully two-thirds of the corporations in Illinois pay no corporate income tax at all. Companies including Boeing and Motorola received tax breaks topping a billion dollars. The CEOs of those two companies had the infamous distinction of earning more in compensation in 2011 than their companies paid in corporate taxes.

“Rather than telling the truth, as a real leader would do, about the fact that the state’s problems are caused by a broken and unfair tax system that lets the rich off easy, Governor Quinn has instead tried to make public employees a scapegoat,” Bayer said.

In a signal of their disgust, AFSCME members last week protested at the Chicago Cultural Center where the governor was holding a fundraiser – a birthday party he threw for himself. In addition to anger about the contract termination, they protested the governor’s attacks on retirement security, affordable health care benefits, and contractually set wages.

On that last issue, a court recently sided with workers, ruling that Quinn could not unilaterally cancel collectively bargained raises for state employees. That was the same conclusion of an arbitration process earlier, which Quinn ignored, forcing the court action. He is now appealing the court ruling.

The State-Journal Register last week admonished Quinn for his chest-thumping attacks on workers and their words should serve as the epitaph for his failed campaign: “Quinn’s quiet war on the collective bargaining rights of public employees was foolish from the start.”

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