The new governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, is a hedge fund manager whose salary last year was $60 million. He spent $65.9 million—including $27.6 million of his own money—buying his last election, and he’s about to introduce an austerity program that will make most folks in Illinois think they are living in austerity-wracked Greece, with less idyllic weather. While he’s generating national headlines by trash talking unions, he is quietly taking a scalpel to every important social program in the state, starting with an Illinois program that subsidizes high-quality childcare for 160,000 low-income kids. Instead of extending a small tax increase that passed the Illinois legislature in 2011, staving off a crisis, he’s letting the increases expire. Rauner is methodically manufacturing an economic crisis for his state, one that will let him do what he has long been set on doing: shrink the government and squeeze the 99 percent.
Rauner’s latest executive order extends last summer’s Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn, which created right-to-work union rules for some public employees, homecare and childcare workers, to all public employees. Government workers in Illinois, and nationally, have long had the right to refuse union membership, and instead of full dues they pay a discounted 60 percent, known in labor parlance as an agency fee, in consideration of the representation and benefits they receive, along with members, from union protection and negotiation. What had been long-settled law on agency fees accepts that a worker might prefer to withhold the roughly 40 percent of dues that a union earmarks for political use. Harris v. Quinn undid this for homecare and childcare workers across the country, setting the stage for a national right-to-work law applying to government workers. Rauner’s order, effective immediately, states that the government will collect all the agency fees and deposit the money in an escrow account—achieving his object of starving union coffers before the courts can decide whether his action is legal, and perhaps before the next election cycle.
Rauner hopes to smash labor in Illinois so that he can take a baseball bat to it nationally. He has retained a high-powered legal team that is steering this case to the US Supreme Court and into the longing arms of Samuel Alito, who has already indicated his preference for the Rauner interpretation of Harris v. Quinn at the national level. Rauner’s cynicism was on full display in both his use of an executive order—the same weapon Obama has been deploying over the loud objections of the organized right wing—and in his choice of language, echoing Karl Marx’s description of workers as cogs in the wheel of capitalism by calling union dues “a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers.”
Rauner is firmly entrenched in the corporate right wing of the Republican party. In an infamous video clip from the summer 2011 Aspen Institute of Ideas, Jonah Edelman, cofounder of Stand for Children, describes how Bruce Rauner suggested that they set up an office in Illinois with the explicit purpose of decimating the Chicago Teachers Union:
“When Bruce Rauner, a mutual friend…asked, after seeing we had passed legislation in several states, including Colorado, that we look to Illinois, I was skeptical, frankly. But after interviewing 55 different folks in the landscape, the speaker of the house, senate president, the minority leadership, education advocates…I was very surprised to see a tremendous political opening,”