Politics

Republican Governor Faces State After Yearlong Union Fight

REUTERS/Jim Young

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Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner warned during his state of the state address Wednesday that burdensome regulations and unbalanced union benefits are still hindering economic growth.

Rauner entered office about a year ago promising to turn around the state economy. His proposals have involved limiting regulations and reining in union power. Public-sector unions fought against the reforms during contract negotiations. He was able to compromise with most state unions, but a few holdouts have drawn out the dispute.

“We have the ability to lead the nation in growth and opportunity and yet, jobs and people are leaving our state,” Rauner said before the state legislature. “Pretty soon the unions won’t have any workers to unionize.”

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has stood as one of his most steadfast opponents. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois has also defied attempts to reform union benefits. Rauner has claimed on numerous occasions that limiting public-sector union power will help the state economy by reducing spending.

“Unfortunately the compensation demands by AFSCME are out of touch with reality,” Rauner noted. “We need to install common sense into union contracts.”

A memo sent by the his office in July detailed that AFSCME is demanding a 11.5 to 29 percent pay increase for state employees, a 37.5 hour work week and five weeks of fully paid vacation, among other privileges. Union benefits, though, was just one area Rauner argued was in need of reform. He also listed taxes, regulations, pensions and education as obstacles that have hindered job growth.

“To see more people employed we need to stop crushing employers,” Rauner said. “In the past year we have lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs.”

Democrat lawmakers have attempted to intervene into the labor dispute. They introduced a bill February that would have allowed unions to override the governor during troubled labor negotiations. It was passed by the Democratic majority in both houses of the state legislature, but Rauner vetoed it in July.

“All of us in this chamber have had a rough time in 2015,” Rauner added. “If we work together Illinois can be both compassionate and competitive.”

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