The Madison County candidate for governor has pledged not to sign right-to-work legislation if elected, and is calling on the other gubernatorial candidates to do the same.
Robert Daiber, a Democrat, signed a pledge on Tuesday that he would not sign any legislation eliminating the mandatory dues payments for workers in union workplaces, even as surrounding Midwestern states have enacted such laws.
Illinois is now surrounded by “right-to-work” states, where paying union dues in a union workplace is optional. Missouri approved right-to-work legislation last month, which made Missouri the 28th such state to do so. While Iowa has been right-to-work since 1947, the laws passed in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin have all been passed within the last five years.
But Daiber said those laws will lead to reduced working conditions for construction workers, teachers, state employees and others.
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“I don’t believe that this is a good policy for developing a 21st-century work force, which is paramount for business growth and development,” Daiber said. “Illinois can move into the 21st century and come out of this financial crisis, but none of this should be shouldered by working men and women. This is not the solution to the problem in the state of Illinois: to lower the wage standards of working people. If anything, we want to keep wages where they are, because that’s a source of tax revenue.”
Daiber said unions fight for wages and benefits for workers, and workers with good health benefits don’t end up relying on Medicaid for their health care. “I want to keep those benefits intact,” Daiber said.
He also pointed out that training facilities run by the unions help the apprentices and journeymen for pipefitters and laborers and other union workers, centers that are maintained by union dues.
“I have encouraged young people to go into the trades, and they go into these great centers… They learn to do these jobs safely and effectively, and have a great work ethic coming out of there,” Daiber said. “If we diminish those training facilities, then the state has to take on a new responsibility. We don’t have the money to fund (community colleges and trade schools) now. That’s why I’m such a strong proponent that we maintain these training facilities.”
Daiber attributed much of the current budget stalemate in Springfield to this issue: whether Illinois will become a right-to-work state. He said Democrats cannot afford to take a back seat to the issue, which he said will make a big difference in the 2018 election.
“Lowering the wage scale discourages young people from becoming a skilled tradesperson,” Daiber said. “Union membership as voluntary is not fair, because they are earning the wage on the dues the others are paying. Lower wages, less benefits and a lack of workplace regulations lead to poor working conditions… Unions should not be viewed as the problem for the state’s economic problems.”
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office declined to comment on Daiber’s challenge.
Among the other candidates, a spokesman with the campaign of Democrat Chris Kennedy affirmed Daiber’s stance. “Any Democratic governor should veto right-to-work legislation. Chris Kennedy stands on the side of working people.”
Campaigns for other Democratic candidates — state Sen. Daniel Biss, businessman Alex Paterakis, Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar — and Constitution Party candidate Randy Stufflebeam did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Apart from statewide laws, some states have developed right-to-work zones approved by local governments — which is directly addressed by the pending Illinois Senate Bill 1905. Two years ago, when Gov. Rauner proposed the local, voter-approved zones, it received zero yes votes in the General Assembly.
Now comes the Collective Bargaining Freedom Act, currently pending in the state Senate, which puts the sole restriction on union agreements with the legislature. That would effectively eliminate the ability of local government to create “right-to-work zones” as an option. Daiber said he supports the bill.
“It doesn’t allow union agreements to be diminished or impaired by local municipalities,” Daiber said. “Right-to-work is wrong for Illinois because it does not provide the resources for an increasing workforce.”
Meanwhile, Daiber said he has visited 18 counties so far in his nascent campaign, going up to Chicago about one day a week. “This is the introductory part of the campaign; people need to meet me face-to-face,” he said. “I’m spending more time in Chicago because I’m less known there.”
Daiber also is juggling his responsibilities as regional superintendent of schools.
“We are fortunate that we have a lot of technology, so nothing is not getting approved and there is no day that goes by that I’m not working,” Daiber said. “I still approve every measure and sign every check, and return all phone calls within 24 hours. Those were my main goals.”
However, Daiber said at a certain point, he will have to determine whether he can continue the campaign while also running the regional superintendent’s office. That will come after the end of the fiscal year in June, when the office must close out the fiscal books and be accountable to the schools and the state.
“I will know by then whether I’m getting endorsements and raising the serious money that I need to stay in the race,” Daiber said. “I have to give it that time to solidify whether I can be a serious contender… I’d say right now I’m getting good reception all over the state with voters, and I’ve never done anything without planning to win it.”