Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Feb. 19, 20 or 21
This week’s budget address may clarify some things, but if his Feb. 4 State of the State speech was any indication, the truth itself may be shaded.
Rauner seeks to make Illinois “more competitive,” but he didn’t say for whom. He omitted, evaded or erred on a lot, like advocating the “trickle-down” economic theory.
"You create a race to the bottom in terms of wages," Bill Looby of the Illinois AFL-CIO told the Chicago Tribune. "It's an ideology that the economy will do better if the top does better. But that's a tired theory that hasn't worked.”
The Republican governor said he wants to curtail public employees unions from contributing to state lawmakers’ campaigns because they’re a “conflict of interest”; limit state-worker unions’ bargaining to hours and working conditions “like federal employees”; lower workers compensation and unemployment rates; let communities declare themselves Right-To-Work zones prohibiting unions from collecting fees from workers they represent; empower municipalities to declare bankruptcy to escape obligations for pensions to firefighters and others; limit lawsuits from “shopping” for courts and cap “unreasonable” judgments; and in an executive order a few days later, abolished public-sector unions from collecting “fair share” fees to help cover unions’ costs in negotiations and contract enforcement, criticizing “closed shops.”
(Oddly, Rauner was silent on pensions and the income tax.)
As for Rauner’s claims: Where to start? First, unions whose Political Action Committees vote to contribute to campaigns don’t negotiate with individual lawmaker recpients, much less the General Assembly, despite workers’ skills benefiting state government – just as UAW members’ talents contribute to the bottom line of Caterpillar. After all, lawmakers’ successful campaigns result in their livelihood, just as good tractor sales enrich Cat and its shareholders.
Next, federal employees DO negotiate for pay. But instead of meeting management across a table, they testify before Congressional committees, then Congress “ratifies” an agreement just as a school board or corporation board of directors approves a settlement. In fact, the U.S. government’s two largest unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), this month started appearing before Congress to lobby for better compensation.
“One-percent increases are not adequate, and we have set our sights on a higher pay raise for 2016,” said NTEU president Colleen Kelley. “The NTEU is supporting legislation in the House and Senate that would provide a 3.8 percent raise.”
Next, Illinois is far from the worst in state rankings for unemployment or workers comp rates, according to nonpartisan analyses by Insurance Journal and the Tax Policy Center. Illinois’ workers comp index rate of 2.35 is better than California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Alaska and Oklahoma. Indiana’s is much lower (1.06), but that’s nothing to brag about, said one expert.
“If you’re going to compare Illinois to Indiana, you may as well compare Illinois to a Third World country,” said John Burton, a conservative Cornell University economist who’s specialized in workers’ comp issues. “Indiana’s that backwards.”
Regarding state unemployment tax rates, Illinois’ maximum rate of 8.95 percent is better than neighboring Wisconsin (9.8 percent) and Missouri (9.75 percent) and far better than many states, including Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wyoming.
As far as Right-To-Work cities, that’s against federal law, which says that only states can enact RTW bans. Also violating federal law is a bankruptcy scheme for cities that want to renege on promised pension benefits. Federal law permits municipalities to file for bankruptcy protection only with the permission from their state, which mean the legislature would have to approve.
Rauner’s attack on trial lawyers upends civil procedure. Attorneys representing a personal injury victim, for example, legitimately seek an advantageous venue for clients based on where an accident occurred, the headquarters of the defendant company, the home office of a complicit subcontractor, the hospital where the victim was treated, or the victim’s residence. And limiting juries’ awards defies the court system.
“What’s ‘unreasonable’?” asked Jim Covington of the Illinois State Bar Association. “Where is the fairness of arbitrarily picking a number?”
Lastly, Rauner’s criticism of “closed shops” shows his ignorance about labor relations. Closed shops were outlawed in 1947. “Union shops” are workplaces where employees who benefit from collective bargaining share in the costs of achieving the rewards workers receive.
Rauner’s anti-union message seems to idealize a powerless work force to be exploited for the profits of influential owners. Think slave-state economies in the Old South.
[PICTURED: Illustration of Mr. Rauner and Mr. Burns from chicagonow.com.]