CBS2 News lead their 10 PM newscast tonight with the story of two University of Chicago colleagues who continue their quest for justice against the rogue Chicago Police Officers who savagely beat them in a calculated and unprovoked attack, according to a lawsuit filed one year ago Wednesday.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn this week put the public’s money where his mouth has always been when he vetoed a pair of bills that would have increased average heating prices in parts of the Chicago-area by a jarring $167 annually.
As the chief architect of the Citizens Utility Board (our client), Quinn has championed the interests of Illinois’ electric, gas and phone customers for four decades. He honored that heritage this week by voiding twin pieces of legislation authorizing construction of new coal plants that would have charged above-market prices to area utilities, a cost that would have been foisted on consumers.
The legislation had passed both chambers of the General Assembly by supporters who professed they would lead to job growth; but the net economic effect was unlikely to be so beneficial considering that the legislation would have cost deprived households of already-scarce money that they could have otherwise spent consumer goods.
It was resounding reaffirmation of principle by Quinn, and he deserves to hear our thanks.
Organized labor’s recent struggle for existence should debunk the longstanding myth that unions and corporations exercise an equal amount of political influence in exchange for their hefty campaign contributions. That misconception seemed to flourish in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision abolishing restrictions on the amount that businesses and unions can donate to electoral campaigns.
According to this lore, Democrats are as beholden to the unions that fund them as Republicans are to the corporations that bankroll their campaigns. But the concerted assault on union workers by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and elsewhere demonstrates a critical difference between the two parties and their fealty to donors: Republicans are aggressive in rewarding their corporate sponsors with pro-business legislative favors. Democratic support for the unions is limited to playing defense.
This discrepancy can be seen in the way the debate has been defined in Wisconsin. Without minimizing the genuinely admirable stance Wisconsin Democrats have taken, it’s important to remember that they drew their line in the sand after there was virtually no more room for the unions to give. Fanatical Republicans, fueled by money from rabidly anti-labor business magnates, swiftly introduced a bill that would obliterate public-sector unions and topple one of the few institutions left to slow the surging tide of income inequality in this country. The unions, which represent workers earning strictly middle-of-the-road wages, promptly already agreed to wage and benefit concessions, even though Wisconsin’s governor hasn’t asked the wealthy residents to forgo tax cuts and contribute their fair share to the Dairy State’s budget morass.
Still, few Democrats publicly raised much of a fuss until Republicans decided they’d settle for nothing less than the union’s extinction. Their move to block the legislation is surely virtuous. But while the Democrats stiffened to keep the unions alive; they’ve done little to stop them from taking a beating. In the war between the surrogates for Big Business and unions, the Republicans are inflicting casualties; the Democrats are performing triage.
This pattern is at least partly responsible for the moribund state of what was the labor movement’s top legislative priority when President Obama took office: the Employee Free Choice Act. This proposed federal bill, which would have eased hurdles that currently encumber the ability for workers to collectively bargain with their employers, was widely deemed to be the top Congressional priority of the labor movement when President Obama took office. But even when Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress, the bill languished.
Meanwhile, last February, the New York Times reported that the administration was considering an executive order that would require federal contractors to take worker wages and benefits into account when considering which private company are awarded government contracts. The concept had been backed by a coalition of unions and progressive advocacy groups. More than a year later, no such executive order has been issued, and the President has been relatively mum about the onslaught against worker rights in Midwest states controlled by the GOP.
Perhaps the administration is intimidated by polls that show that unions are not a very popular institution in America. And perhaps that’s flagging popularity is due in part to the conventional wisdom equating unions with corporations in the game of political influence peddling. Now that several states are pushing legislation to essentially put public-sector unions to death, perhaps we can do the same to that myth.
Our client Locke Bowman, Legal Director of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University, rues the latest step backward in the leadership of the Chicago Police Department in his commentary on Huffington Post.
The recycling of Terry Hilliard as Police Chief for the remainder of the current Mayor’s term entrusts the city’s cops to the stewardship of a man who let an internationally condemned torture to escape justice. Now, as Locke explains, it’s up to the next mayor to appoint a successor willing to challenge the circle-the-wagons culture of one of the country’s largest police forces.
The proposed Sweet Home Chicago ordinance would allocate 20 percent of the city’s ample Tax Increment Finance revenues to fund affordable housing, including the purchase and rehabilitation of properties stricken by foreclosure. As late as last fall, a majority of Aldermen sponsored the legislation, but efforts to call the measure in City Council to a vote have been repeatedly rebuffed. In January, powerful 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke invoked a disingenuous parliamentary maneuver to block a vote, and the Mayor Daley’s unofficial floor leader, Ald. Patrick O’Connor, led a movement to table the ordinance last week.
The resistance to the bill is hard to fathom in a climate where neighborhoods have been decimated by foreclosures. A recent report found that foreclosures throughout the Chicago region surged by 20 percent in 2010, as the housing market continues reel from the convulsion of the impaired economy and the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
In communities with high rates of foreclosures, property values continue to decline due the prevalence of vacant lots, decaying buildings and the crime and blight they tend to attract. But the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance would provide relief by unleashing funds to buy those properties and build or rehab homes residing on them. The money would augment the city’s existing revenues for affordable housing, which fell short of the $400 million annually adopted as a goal in 2009.
Yet allies of the Mayor have actually floated a proposal that would reduce that goal by a staggering 75 percent, which represents precisely the wrong direction the city should be moving at a time when its housing markets sinks deeper in the doldrums.
Earth to Aldermen: Phone Home. Get in touch with conditions threatening your constituents and pass the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance could resurface at the March meeting of the Chicago City Council.