By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois’ largest public employee unions are making it clear to voters. They don’t care about Republican or Democrat. They only care about pensions.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the latest labor union to illustrate that point. AFSCME on Wednesday announced its endorsement of Kirk Dillard in Illinois’ four-way Republican race for governor.
“We believe that Kirk Dillard would be the best choice in the Republican primary,” an AFSCME statement reads. “He rejects the demonization of public employees … who provide the vital public services that Illinois citizens demand.”
The statement then uses three paragraphs to blast the GOP primary frontrunner, Bruce Rauner.
“It is critically important that AFSCME members do their part to support Kirk Dillard and defeat Bruce Rauner in the Republican primary,” the statement adds.
John Tillman, CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, said that last line says a lot about AFSCE and its motives.
“The union interest here is to continue the gravy train of high taxpayer burdens to fund public employee compensations,” Tillman said.
Dillard also has endorsements from two of Illinois’ three teachers unions. Both the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers are backing Dillard.
Both labor unions say pensions are the big reason why.
“Sen. Dillard supports our fight for adequate funding for public education and he stood up to tremendous pressure and voted against the unfair and unconstitutional pension bill,” IEA President Cinda Klicnka said in her endorsement letter to teachers.
Tillman said Illinois’ public employee unions have a long history of supporting lawmakers who support them, but usually big labor pulls for Democrats in statewide elections.
This year, however, Illinois’ labor unions are pouring millions of dollars into the race to defeat Rauner.
Tillman said big labor’s support of Dillard is an off-shoot of that.
“This is all part-and-parcel of the public sector unions’ strategy,” Tillman said. “They want to have tremendous influence over whoever wins the governor’s race in the fall.”
David Yepsen, a long time journalist who is now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said what the unions really want is to not be Wisconsin.
“I think the labor movement in Illinois is genuinely afraid Bruce Rauner will try to do what Scott Walker tried in Wisconsin and they are worried,” Yepsen told Illinois Watchdog.
Wisconsin’s Walker, through Act 10, reformed collective bargaining with public-sector unions.
Rauner, for his part, is making it clear he’s willing to stand up to the big “union bosses” he claims have hijacked state government.
“The government union bosses are at the core of our spending problem in Illinois. It’s a conflict of interest for the taxpayers,” Rauner said at a Wednesday debate in Chicago.
Voters will pick one of the four in the March 18 GOP primary.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.