Chicago labor leaders upset with with Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed “local employee empowerment zones”, got an opportunity to air their concerns Tuesday, when a City Council committee hearing on the Governor’s economic plan turned into a barrage of Rauner-bashing.

The City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development and Audit held a hearing Tuesday morning, at the request of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on Gov. Rauner’s proposal to create municipal-based non-unionized work areas. Mayor Emanuel introduced the non-binding resolution to the full Council earlier this month saying that, as long as he’s mayor, Chicago will never be a right-to-work city. Eight of the nineteen committee members, including Chairman Pat O’Connor, attended and unanimously passed the Mayor’s resolution opposing the governor’s plans.

Committee Members Present: Pat O’Connor (40) Chairman, Will Burns (4), Anthony Beale (9), Matt O’Shea (19), Walter Burnett (27), Margaret Laurino (39), Michele Smith (44), Debra Silverstein (50). Bob Fioretti (2) was also present, but is not a member of the committee. Complete Agenda

Close to a dozen labor leaders and organizers used the brief, 40 minute, meeting as a soundboard to list their grievances with Gov. Rauner and his so-called “Turnaround” plan to keep Illinois economically competitive.

Under Rauner’s plan, local municipalities would get to decide if they want to be a union-free zone through a local law or by referendum. “I am not advocating that Illinois become a right to work state. I do not advocate that,” Rauner told an audience during one of his Turnaround presentations at Richland Community College in January. “But I do advocate local governments, local voters, being able to decide themselves right to work areas, right to work zones.” Rauner has said his plans would keep businesses from fleeing to neighboring states, boost employment, and increase workers’ wages.

“Chicago is a proud union city,” said Bridget Early, Director of Political Affairs at the Chicago Federation of Labor. “The city that works, was built and rebuilt from the ground up by a world class union workforce, and our unions continue to play a key role in our communities.”

The public testimony quickly repeated itself with most speakers echoing Mayor Emanuel’s criticisms that a union-free Chicago would be disastrous to the local economy, put more workers in poverty and keep wages low. In an effort to avoid repeating previous testimony, some speakers resorted to using puns.

“Lets ‘turn around’ Governor Rauner’s Turnaround agenda, because after all, right to work is nothing more than right to work for less for all working people in the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago,” Donald Finn, Business Manager of Local 134 IBEW, said.

“The fiscal woes of Illinois are not the result of a middle class that earns too much money,” said Ed Maher, with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. “This agenda is aimed entirely at Illinois middle class and could have been more appropriately named the ‘Turn Your Back’ agenda.”

Only one speaker, the final one, spoke in support of the governor. “Mr. Israel”, as Ald. O’Connor referred to him, said he supported empowerment zones because the city’s unions often discriminate against minority workers. He claimed that the union card in his pocket was worthless because he, and other unionized African Americans, get less work than their white peers.

Following the meeting, Ald. O’Connor, fielded questions from reporters. Here is an edited version of the Q&A.

Q: What good came of this hearing?

A:  It shows that organized labor is 100% against the governor’s turnaround agenda, at least in the Chicago area. It allows the city government to begin to voice its opposition based upon testimony…”

Q: What’s wrong with the governor’s plan?

A:  Well I think statistically if [those who testified] are correct, right-to-work would essentially really be better labeled right-to-hire. It seems to be a union busting component, and frankly if you look at the economic impact it would have on this state […] It’d be an over billion dollar hit to our economy. I’m not quite sure how that translates into a booming economy for this city, the region, for this state.

Q: What is your message to Governor Rauner?

A: “Rethink this”

Q: Well Rauner says [his plan] isn’t anti-union….

A: Well it also says it’s right-to-work, and,frankly,that’s not the case. It is basically a plan that would take away working men and women’s rights that they have established over decades and decades of union bargaining, and the Attorney General said it would violate the law […] I guess it’s easier, though, for elected officials to just try and pass a statute with a trendy name, as opposed to just  saying we are going to repeal the statutes that are already on the books for working men and women. I mean, if you are going to change the policy, then change the laws that establish that policy.  Don’t come along and pass another law with a trendy name. I think that’s the message.

Q: Isn’t this just a bargaining chip for Rauner [in dealing with Assembly Speaker Michael Madigan]?

A: Not sure because this was part of the campaign, part of the inauguration…I think that would be a stretch to assume that. It may become a bargaining chip if he doesn’t get what he wants.

Q: [Bargaining chips question asked a different way…]

A: The Attorney General has already said this violates state law. The first thing [Rauner] would need to do is repeal collective bargaining laws. If he wants to do that, then do that. But he should not just create a new law. He should remove the ones already on the books. If this is a bargaining chip, then the state legislature should vote against it.

Q: What would you say to those in Chicago who don’t have jobs?

A: [O’Connor says that you should be more focused on those who could lose their jobs] […]

Shouldn’t we all be about creating more jobs, more good paying jobs, more jobs that allow people to step up into the middle class, as opposed to basically saying, I can offer you a whole bunch of, like, half jobs, but I can’t offer you a good job. I mean, clearly, that’s what the governor’s offer is. It’s not a job that is going to get people out of poverty, it’s an offer to have a job that basically has them subsisting, and so I think that we would be better as a state focusing on the creation of good jobs, and allow men and women, who wish to form collectives, to bargain. To get better wages and better working conditions to continue to do so.