by Félix Pérez; image by Steven Vance
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision late last month, dealt a blow to the right of educators to come together and fight for better schools and resources for their students need and for working people to advocate for decent pay, affordable health care and vibrant and safe communities.
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The ruling in the landmark case, Janus v. AFSCME, has met with widespread criticism and has been described as a “blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and powerful.”
While educators, social workers, firefighters, 911 operators and other public service workers are using Janus as a rallying cry to continue to position unions to build power for working people and remain the most effective pathway to the middle class, often lost in news stories is the man who set Janus in motion: Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Randy Clover, president of a union local in Illinois and a Republican precinct leader who voted for President Trump, said, “The case was started by [Rauner] to destroy unions. It’s trying to diminish the protections that unions have for their members.”
J.B Pritzker, who is seeking to oust Rauner from the governor’s office this November, said Rauner “used the Supreme Court as his instrument to attack working families, to lower wages, to lower workplace safety.”
Rauner, a billionaire first-term governor, championed a bill early in his tenure to permit non-union members who share in the wages, benefits and protections that have been negotiated in a collectively bargained contract not to pay their fair share for the cost of those negotiations. In his first year in office, Rauner traveled across the state pitching his proposal. His bill wasn’t able to garner a single vote in the state House of Representatives, going down 0-72.
Despite the drubbing in the state legislature, Rauner filed a federal lawsuit to bar the collection of fair share fees by public service unions. A federal judge ruled that Rauner had no standing because he was not himself an employee paying fair share fees. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which includes four Koch brother associates as members of its litigation team, and the Liberty Justice Center were able to carry the case forward by planting plaintiffs.
Rauner has long made educators and public schools a target. He vetoed another education funding bill in January, demanding that more private schools be given access to public money in the form of education tax credits, or vouchers. He pushed the state into a two-year budget impasse, during which more than $1 billion was not paid out to school districts, public colleges and universities, which were forced to call statewide layoffs. Social service agencies shut down, construction projects stalled, and businesses were owed billions for goods and services provided to the state.
Pritzker has vowed to end Rauner’s private school voucher program. “I am opposed to that $75 million tax credit, that school voucher program he’s [Rauner] created,” Pritzker said. “What I really oppose is taking money out of the public schools and that is what happened here in order to provide that private tax credit to wealthy people.”
Pritzker was recommended for governor by the 135,000-member Illinois Education Association. Pritzker and his wife M.K. are funding a research-based policy initiative to “promote high quality early learning and development.” The early childhood education initiative is partnering with several national organizations that have strong community ties to enhance local support for children from birth to age three and their families. The Pritzkers put up $6.5 million of their own money to support a one-year pilot. As an extension of his 20 years advocating for access to high-quality early education, Pritzker has proposed a comprehensive birth-to-five educational system so every child has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.