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Unions' Protest Draws Thousands Who Say "Rauner Is Hurting Illinois"

Amanda Vinicky

Unions members flooded streets in front of the Illinois Statehouse to protest Governor Bruce Rauner's agenda, and what they say are his anti-labor policies.

Union workers marched to the capitol for a rally, where they were briefly joined by a pair of prominent Democrats: House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

There was a time (in recent memory) that the labor movement wasn't all too fond of Madigan. Though he's a Democrat, he helped pass bills cutting government worker pension benefits, and he's backed corporate tax breaks.

But Tuesday, union members that the Secretary of State police estimate numbered 8,000, greeted him like a rock star. They responded loudly as he lead them in a rallying chant, that consisted of him asking questions like:  "Gov. Rauner wants to send injured workers to welfare. How do you feel?"

Credit Amanda Vinicky

"No," they shouted back.

One state worker said he's thankful Madigan's in the Capitol, to stand up to Rauner.

Senate President John Cullerton also took the stage; he says Democrats will stay tough and fight for the middle class.

Labor disputes are at the heart of Illinois' budget impasse.

The governor says Illinois is not friendly to business.

The Republican says he won't negotiate on a comprehensive state budget unless Democrats pass an agenda he says will make the state more competitive. He's calling for restricting compensation for injured workers, ending the prevailing wage, and other changes labor adamantly oppose.

Another speaker at the rally, Annette Edwards, is a member of the Service Employees International Union.

She riled the crowd saying she lost her job as a child care worker after the governor cut eligibility for the program.

"Bruce Rauner is no job creator," she said. "He is a job killer. I lost my job because of his cuts. He's holding our state hostage so that he can pass through tax cuts for the rich, and pay cuts, service cuts, and job cuts for the rest of us."

Rauner wasn't around to see or hear the rally, though his office window would have given him a prime view. He says he's willing to compromise with Democrat, but has given no indication of what that could mean.

During a stop in southern Illinois Wednesday, Rauner said if chanting solved problems, Illinois wouldn't have any.

"And we've got a lot" of problems, he said.

President of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Todd Maisch issued a statement in response to the rally, saying "you cannot expect smooth sailing when Illinois has been spending billions of dollars more than it has coming in for more than a decade. This was the year that the check came due.”

To solve this problem, we need pro-growth reforms to bolster the Illinois economy, which will be good for workers, companies, state government, and the organizations that state government funds. We can grow the state’s tax base with Otherwise, we will be in an increasingly precarious situation with each coming year," Maisch said.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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