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Thousands Of Union Protestors At Capitol Say Rauner Is Hurting Illinois

Amanda Vinicky/Illinois Public Radio
A crowd of union workers, estimated at about 8,000 people, gathers at the Illinois State Capitol to protest Gov. Bruce Rauner's agenda.

Union members flooded streets in front of the Illinois Statehouse to protest Gov. Bruce Rauner's agenda and what they say are his anti-labor policies.

Union workers marched to the Capitol for a rally, where they were joined briefly by a pair of prominent Democrats: House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

There was a time, in recent memory, that the labor movement wasn't all too fond of Madigan. Though he's a Democrat, he helped pass bills cutting government-worker pension benefits, and he's backed corporate tax breaks.

But Tuesday, union members. whom the Secretary of State police estimate numbered 8,000, greeted him like a rock star. They responded loudly as he led them in a rallying chant that consisted of him asking questions like:  "Gov. Rauner wants to send injured workers to welfare. How do you feel?"

"No," they shouted back.

Credit Amanda Vinicky/Illinois Public Radio
Union workers and politicians speaking to the crowd got strong response to remarks opposing Gov. Bruce Rauner's state agenda, which has been labeled pro-business and anti-union.

One state worker said he's thankful Madigan's in the Capitol to stand up to Rauner.

Senate President John Cullerton also took the stage; he says Democrats will stay tough and fight for the middle class.

Labor disputes are at the heart of the Illinois budget impasse.

The governor says Illinois is not friendly to business. The Republican says he won't negotiate on a comprehensive state budget unless Democrats pass an agenda which he says will make the state more competitive. He's calling for restricting compensation for injured workers, ending the prevailing wage rule, and other changes labor adamantly oppose.

Another speaker at the rally, Annette Edwards, is a member of the Service Employees International Union.

She riled the crowd saying she lost her job as a child-care worker after the governor cut eligibility for the program.

"Bruce Rauner is no job creator," she said. "He is a job killer. I lost my job because of his cuts. He's holding our state hostage so that he can pass through tax cuts for the rich, and pay cuts, service cuts, and job cuts for the rest of us."

Rauner wasn't around to see or hear the rally, though his office window would have given him a prime view. He says he's willing to compromise with Democrats, but he has given no indication of what that could mean.

During a stop in southern Illinois Wednesday, Rauner said that, if chanting solved problems, Illinois wouldn't have any.

"And we've got a lot" of problems, he said.

Todd Maisch, President of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement in response to the rally, saying, "You cannot expect smooth sailing when Illinois has been spending billions of dollars more than it has coming in for more than a decade. This was the year that the check came due.”

"To solve this problem, we need pro-growth reforms to bolster the Illinois economy -- which will be good for workers, companies, state government, and the organizations that state government funds -- we can grow the state’s tax base with," Maisch said in the statement. "Otherwise, we will be in an increasingly precarious situation with each coming year."

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.