Right to Work Zones and Unions in the Black Community

by

Maze Jackson

 

Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed introducing employee empowerment zones in Illinois and it has not been received with open arms by unions or legislators around the state. While the Governor initially proposed changing Illinois, known as a union stronghold, into a right to work state, he has settled on empowerment zones.

Governor Rauner says, “Employee empowerment zones will allow Illinois to better compete with employment-flexible states, like Indiana. The Turnaround Agenda empowers local voters and communities to decide if they should be open or closed shop, and these zones will help attract businesses, which will create jobs, particularly in areas with high unemployment.”

It would also exploit historic tensions between the trade unions and the Black community, which has long-held that the unions are barriers to Black employment in Black communities.

Trade unions, formed after slavery were initially created for workers rights, but also to prevent skilled slaves from taking jobs from White workers.   Over time, as Blacks migrated North and White businessmen sought to break strikes, they often employed Black “scabs” who were willing to accept the verbal and often physical abuse of White union members and expendable to the White business owners.

Concurrently, Black leaders like A. Phillip Randolph eventually began organizing groups like the Pullman Porters who advocated specifically for Black workers. Eventually, Black unions were integrated into larger White unions with their presence being relegated to Black “caucuses.”

The trade unions, which traditionally have the highest paid remain primarily dominated by White ethnic men in membership and leadership, and receive complaints from legislators and community activists alike for their lack of diversity. Conversely, low wage Black and minority workers dominate the service unions, with “liberal” White leadership making most policy decisions. Both groups say that right to work laws are bad for working middle class families, pointing to a Public Policy Polling report that states, “55% of voters are resistant to right to work laws.”

But with a Black unemployment rate of almost 25% in Chicago, and projected to be almost 14% statewide, the question becomes what is the benefit of employee empowerment zones for Black community? Black community activists and Black legislators alike agree that while unions provide great jobs and wages, they are the barrier to Blacks accessing those great jobs and wages. “Right to work zones are needed to allow the people who have been left out to participate in rebuilding their own communities. Then, once the community is rebuilt they want us to leave,” stated community activist and organizer of Voice Of The Ex-offender (VOTE).

The unions counter with the fact that while there are opportunities for growth, Black people are not applying to become part of the trade unions. In response, they have increased their outreach efforts. “One of the biggest challenges we find it that most people do not know the process of how to find the job. Once a person gets in the program, they can be as successful as they want to be, “ said IBEW Local 134 official Mario Miller.

State Representative Ken Dunkin, counters, “We have to hold these unions accountable. They’ve got to explain to our community why they should not have the right to work. “

Right to work zones will most likely be voted on this week, will fail miserably, and the unions will be able to claim a big victory against the Governor. What remains to be seen is how this vote plays out in the upcoming Statehouse elections. If the Black unemployment rates remain disproportionately high and social services continue to get cut, many of the same Black legislators who will vote against the right to work zone legislation will have to explain to their constituencies why they voted for unions and against their right to work.   That will be difficult to sell to unemployed Blacks.

Chicago Budget Fix Relies on Dysfunctional Springfield

(as published in the October 7-13 Chicago Defender)

by

Maze Jackson

Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)
Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would be proposing over a $588 million property tax increase in the city of Chicago, a collective groan was heard across the neighborhoods. While many knew that the day of pension reckoning was finally upon us, the shock of actually hearing Emanuel deliver the message was palpable. While he discussed a wide range of services savings and cuts, most Chicagoans fixated on the $500 million property tax increase.

 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A $588 million increase that equates to an approximate 58.1% increase over what Chicagoans had been paying. That increased property tax assessment could potentially have a dire effect on the Black community whose property values are rapidly increasing, while their incomes are not. Combine that with the fact that the Black community has not fully recovered as quickly as others from the recession, while struggling to hold on to their homes. At the same time, White developers are buying every bit of property they can get their hands in anticipation of the Obama library on the South Side, and Silicon Valley 2.0 which is being built on the near West Side.

In an effort to provide some relief from the enormous tax increase, and prevent some of those things from happening, Mayor Emmanuel proposed an exemption for homes that are valued under $250,000. The move was hailed as an attempt to ensure that the cities most vulnerable homeowners would be spared the massive increase that would eventually drive them from their homes and communities, a fact that members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus applaud.

“I believe it will encourage investment, while lessening the impact on people with less income,” said 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. who represents a portion of the West Side and West Loop, where high-income development is booming.

(photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)
27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. (photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)

But to get the necessary relief, the mayor’s budget relies on approval from a dysfunctional Springfield that has not been able to pass its own budget. As a matter of fact the state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for the past five months with no solution in the foreseeable future. In spite of that, Burnett remains optimistic that “Governor Rauner will do the right thing, help the city of Chicago, and low income residents.”

While all parties would agree that the city of Chicago is on the brink of financial peril all parties do not agree on the solution, the most important of which is Governor Rauner, who has called for a statewide property tax freeze. Combine that with the fact that when Governor Rauner addressed the Chicago City Council back in July, he made it perfectly clear that if Chicago expected to get any relief from the state he expected that they would make concessions in Springfield. Regardless of Rauner’s ominous statements, Springfield insiders remain optimistic that they will be able to pass the property tax exemption and get Governor Rauner to sign it.

(photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)

Assistant Majority Leader Art Turner, Jr. (D-Chicago) is one of those insiders. “Most of the constituents I represent would benefit from the exemption and I am for it. It’s progressive which is something that we should look at on the state level as well. Those who can pay more should,” Turner states.

 

(photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)
Assistant Majority Leader Arthur Turner, Jr. (photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)

“The City of Chicago is the largest economic engine in the state, and while I think it will be tougher to get through Springfield, I am confident that the Governor understands how important Chicago is to the rest of the state. Mayor Emanuel has taken the first step in fixing the situation, but because he and the Governor have a working relationship and talk regularly, I think we will get a bill passed and signed,” Turner explained.

Turner’s optimism is based on Emanuel and Rauner’s relationship, because Rauner’s relationship with Democratic leaders in Springfield is tense to say the least. Governor Rauner and Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan are currently locked in a budget fight to the death over who will control Springfield, and neither seems willing to compromise. But if the city of Chicago hopes to plug its budget holes and pension problems, it must rely upon cooperation with legislators, leaders and the Governor to get it done. But so far no party has shown any willingness to give, which is what makes Emanuel’s role in the situation so crucial.

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)
Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)

Mayor Emanuel has stated, we must fix the “structural deficit” and we cannot “kick the can down the road any longer” as he has so often accused the previous administration of. And, while he is careful not to blame the Daley administration by name, one only need listen to Emanuel talk about the city’s financial situation to know that he will not wear the jacket for the massive property tax increase alone.

One thing is clear, if the City of Chicago wants to keep growing, it must tackle the financial woes created by years of underfunding police and fire pensions. The intentional underfunding of police and fire pensions have reduced Chicago’s bond ratings to junk status, driving the cost of borrowing money to unmanageable levels. But with the property tax increase, Emanuel and the Chicago City Council still have to convince voters why they should accept such a large property tax with very few to no new services.

To combat the perception, Emanuel has also proposed using a rare state law that allows the city to levy a $45 million school improvement tax to ease the tensions associated with such a large increase. Emanuel has also tried to make the increase more palatable by phasing it in over 3 years, with increases being $318 million in 2015, $109 million in 2016, $53 million in 2017, and $63 million in 2018.

But none of that will make a difference if he can’t get Springfield to work together, something they have been unable to do for the last five months. Emanuel needs them to if he hopes to save Chicago from being devoured by its pension obligation.

Dunkin Breaks with Madigan, Says Not “Enough…for Black People”

by

Maze Jackson

(from the September 16-22, 2015 edition of the Chicago Defender

Fifth District State Representative Kenneth “Ken” Dunkin seems to have no problem keeping his family commitments and travel schedule even if it comes into conflict with Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan’s political power plays. Some might even infer that those “family commitments and travel schedule” include a broader family, the residents of his district, and in some cases the even larger Black community of Illinois.

AP-Ken-Dunkin

Born and raised in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green Housing Projects, Dunkin has always been one to go against the grain. “Even as a kid, we called him ‘GQ’, because Ken was always trying to achieve a higher standard. Whether it was how he dressed or the way he carried himself, he always knew we could do better,” recounts childhood friend and fellow Phi Beta Sigma brother Cyril Nichols. Dunkin went on to graduate from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and received his Masters from the University of Chicago. Dunkin ran the Robert Taylor Boys and Girls Club, before being elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 2002.

 

While in Springfield, Dunkin established a reputation as a legislator who was willing to buck Madigan to cut a better deal for the constituents of his district. Dunkin even aligned himself with former Governor Rod Blagojevich when it made the most sense for his constituents. Because of his alliance with Blagojevich, Dunkin faced numerous Madigan backed challengers early in his career, soundly defeating all challengers. During the last remap, Madigan went as far as to map Dunkin out of his home base, but being the consummate campaigner, Dunkin adapted and was re-elected with little fuss.

 

In 2009, when Madigan wanted to put his full power on display against his than political mortal enemy Governor Rod Blagojevich, “family commitments and travel schedule” kept Dunkin from being present to vote on the impeachment. Dunkin’s refusal to take part in the process was symbolic of Dunkin’s unwillingness to kick Blagojevich, who was wildly popular in the Black community in spite of his legal issues, while he was down.

 

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Since the House voted 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich, Dunkin’s absence was easily missed, but when Senate Bill 1229 failed, and Madigan said “If Mr. Dunkin were here we would have had 71 votes” because of those same “family commitments and travel schedule,” it sent a ripple through Springfield. When Dunkin was quoted to ABC 7 reporter Charles Thomas as saying, “There was not enough in the bill for Black people!” that ripple became a shock wave.

 

Dunkin sent a shockwave through Springfield, because for the first time, he dared to interject the interests of the Black community into the political death match between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats led by Speaker Madigan. Because the Governor has veto power, the Senate has a bullet proof super majority, and the House has a super majority, the state budget impasse has reached gridlock. Dunkin’s break from Madigan over Black issues could become the game changer for either side, up to this point, only Rauner has been even willing to discuss the needs of the Black community specifically.

 

Springfield Power Dynamics

In the Illinois Senate, President John Cullerton listens closely to the advice and counsel of Assistant Majority Leader and Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Senator Kimberly A. Lightford. Additionally, the Senate Black Caucus has taken the lead in identifying areas of compromise, but are leery to trust Rauner, who they say has yet to back up his campaign promises. “We haven’t seen the business he was supposed to bring.” Lightford said, but she did indicate that there was room for compromise. “I can see some term limits if you think some people have been there too long and have a monopoly (on state government)” she continued in a veiled reference to the 40 year Speaker of the House.

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In the Illinois House the situation is a bit different. While the Illinois Speaker of the House is widely regarded as the most powerful man in Illinois, his position of strength relies on his ability to control his members. In this situation, Madigan must be able to corral all 71 of his members to be able to override Rauner’s ability to veto, and any defection leaves Speaker Madigan in the weakest negotiating position of the three major players. Always the master strategist, in the past Madigan has typically been able to convince at least one Republican to vote with Democrats, but since Rauner entered the scene, he has commanded the loyalty of the House Republicans, led by Minority Leader Jim Durkin.

 

 

While Cullerton has the strongest Democratic position, he and his Senate colleagues have taken a backseat to the “Madigan v. Rauner Show.” Equally in the background, is the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, who until this point has also been overshadowed, even though they control the second largest Caucus in Springfield. Rauner has openly courted their support, and has been rumored to have offered the Black Caucus a menu of social service and economic concessions tailored to the Black community. The Black Caucus so far has rejected Rauner’s overtures because of his stance on basic “Democratic core values.”

lbc1

 

Meanwhile, Madigan has yet to even mention the issues that concern the Black community, with many suggesting that he is at the root of Blacks being excluded from equal participation in state contracts and the political decision making process. As a matter of fact, during Madigan’s 40-year tenure as Speaker, he has never had a Black person on his Senior Leadership Team. He has been able to count on the unquestioned support of the Black Caucus members, without ever having to confront his own record in the Black community… until Ken Dunkin missed that vote and audaciously mentioned, “Black People!”

 

Senate Bill 1229

When Black State Representative Ken Dunkin missed the vote on Senate Bill 1229, he took on two of the most powerful forces in Springfield, Speaker Madigan and organized labor. The bill, which would have strengthened state employee labor union AFSCME’s negotiating power and proved Mike Madigan as the biggest boss in Springfield failed by 3 votes, and Madigan blamed it singularly on Dunkin’s absence, he inadvertently gave the Black community their strongest negotiating tool in almost two generations.
Traditionally, state workers negotiate their contract with the Governor and the Executive Branch not the Legislative Branch, but because of the extreme anti-union position Bruce Rauner has taken against unions, AFSCME sought the assistance of the General Assembly to gain additional leverage. Because AFSCME needed to involve the Legislative Branch in the negotiations because things are not going so well, Dunkin saw it as the perfect opportunity for Black legislators to leverage concessions from the trade union that represents state workers including downstate prison guards.

Dunkin admits he voted for the bill initially, but after Rauner vetoed the bill and he had more opportunity to ask questions, AFSCME representatives told him that they “don’t typically share that information.” Dunkin admits he was incredulous at the fact that the union would not provide the information he requested, but still demanded his vote and unquestioned support. Dunkin knowing that he had previous commitments said “he informed House leadership that he would be unavailable” the following week. House leadership scheduled the vote anyway, and added SB 570 to restore childcare subsidy levels, on the same day with the hopes of guaranteeing Black lawmakers would be present for the vote.

When Dunkin followed through with family plans and travel schedule as he had previously communicated, the Speaker called SB 1229 in his absence. When the bill failed by 3 votes, Dunkin alone was vilified by the leader of the Democratic Caucus for the bill’s failure. Then knowing that he did not have the votes to pass the childcare bill, SB 570, the Speaker called it and it failed by one vote. Insiders speculated that Madigan called the bill knowing it would fail, so that it could be used against Dunkin in future campaigns. It is common practice in Springfield to leverage Black social service needs to secure votes on issues important to him. While SB 570 failed, Rep. Jehan Gordon made a motion to reconsider, which allowed SB 570 to be called again, a fact that has been lost in all of the rhetoric.

While the Speaker and AFSCME continue to attack Dunkin, for being “disloyal,” they fail to mention that 40% of AFSCME’s downstate membership voted for Governor Rauner in the past election. They also fail to mention that they spent the better part of two years attacking Democratic governor Pat Quinn. They also fail to mention that their leadership threatened to “punish” Dunkin for not supporting their bill.

Geneva-Rose-Brenda

 

In the Black community, the narrative has been all about the failure of SB 570, but the real battle was SB 1229, because it would have given Madigan and AFSCME the upper hand in their negotiations with Rauner. When Dunkin made the declaration, “I don’t work for Mike Madigan,” he dramatically shifted the power of the supermajority out of the hands of the all-powerful Madigan into the hands of a Black man. It’s a position that Blacks have not been in very often, and are very uncomfortable with.

 

While most Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members have remained silent, it is clear from their response that they are not happy with Dunkin. They have refused to speak out publicly against the former Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, but behind the scenes many are calling for the Speaker to “punish” Dunkin, but that would leave the Speaker in a precarious position.

While the House Democrats have a supermajority, there is no room for error. If they lose one vote, the Governor’s vetoes stick, making the supermajority worthless unless they can increase it. As we saw this week after Dunkin’s no show, the power dynamic shifts pretty fast in Springfield if anyone, particularly anyone Black leaves the proverbial “plantation,” a notion thought unthinkable until Dunkin rebelled against Madigan publicly last week.

 

That leaves the Speaker with a whole lot to think about, and based on his record in the Black community, that is not something he’s had to do for 40 years.