Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Rauner, Emanuel both likely to be tagged with United Steelworkers strike

Oil refinery workers represented by the United Steelworkers union across the nation – including at the BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., near the Illinois/Indiana border – have been on strike for more than a month; and that could become an issue that our top political people are likely to get tagged with if the Chicago Teachers Union gets its way.

The teachers union issued a statement Monday saying it fully supported the striking union members, who walked off the job Feb. 1 when they were unable to come to agreement on new health and safety regulations at the refineries.

THE LABOR DISPUTE began in Texas and has spread to 15 facilities across the country. None are technically within Illinois, although that Whiting refinery is capable of generating a stink that sometimes can be sensed – depending on how the wind blows – at the far southeast corner of Chicago.

The teachers union decided to show labor solidarity by reminding us that our new governor is not all that sympathetic toward organized labor and that Bruce Rauner “attacks Illinois unions and worker compensation laws that keep workers safe.”

The union didn’t mention Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Monday’s statement, but I’m sure it is just a matter of time before they start smacking him with anti-union cries – considering how clear union President Karen Lewis has made it that she wants "Anybody But Rahm" to be mayor and that she supports the bid of Jesus Garcia in the April 7 run-off election.

“It is incumbent upon Illinois political and business leaders to reject the race to the bottom promoted by the anti-union attacks of Gov. Rauner and instead recognize the rights of workers and the importance of their unions to mitigate negative externalities in the workplace and beyond,” the union wrote.

I’M SURE THAT Rauner (and Emanuel) backers will contend that this particular strike doesn’t impact Illinois and ought to be considered irrelevant to our local issues.

But when one comes across as hard-core anti-labor as Rauner does, it is only natural that he’s going to get bashed by some of this strike’s particular trash talk.

Particularly if they think it can result in political support from people who already are wary of trusting the new governor and the incumbent mayor.

“Illinois political leaders can address the widening gulf between rich and poor in the state and the nation by actively promoting unionization, halting the attack on worker pensions and demanding higher taxes for the wealthy,  an approach that has dramatically improved state budgets for the people of Minnesota and California,” the union wrote.

ALTHOUGH I WONDER if bringing up those states is counter-productive, since the kind of measures Rauner has mentioned to bolster the Illinois economy seem to be moving us toward the “right-to-work” laws in places like Mississippi and Alabama – which imposed them out of an ideological belief that the existence of unions WAS the problem that business interests should not have to address.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the teachers union would find some solidarity with the steelworkers union. One of the teachers union’s area vice-presidents is Susan Garza – who also is the 10th Ward aldermanic candidate in the April 7 run-off and the daughter of long-time United Steelworkers local President Ed Sadlowski.

They will keep up the rhetoric meant to fight back against the governor’s rhetoric that is meant to demonize labor. Even if it means bringing up a strike that technically isn’t local.

I’m just waiting to see and hear what they will say if it turns out that gasoline prices wind up increasing significantly in coming weeks since about one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity is impacted. It’s Rauner’s fault that we could be paying near $4 per gallon for gasoline, except for the part of the equation that can be blamed on Rahm!


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