POLITICS
02/11/2013 01:11 pm ET | Updated Feb 11, 2013

AFSCME President Slams Pat Quinn, Michael Nutter As 'Turncoats' Who Must 'Pay'

WASHINGTON -- One of the top labor leaders in the country ripped into two prominent Democratic lawmakers Monday morning, calling them "turncoats" and unfavorably comparing them to high-profile anti-union Republicans.

Speaking at the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees' Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., AFSCME President Lee Saunders devoted a large portion of his address to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, promising political retribution for the tough-on-labor policies both Democrats have imposed.

The remarks, delivered at a private gathering and sent over by a labor source, are below:

I am sick and tired of the fair-weather Democrats. They date us, take us to the prom, marry us, and then divorce us right after the honeymoon. I am sick and tired of the so-called friends who commend us when they’re running for election, but condemn us after they’ve won. I am sick and tired of the politicians who stand with us behind closed doors, but kick us to the curb in front of the cameras. I'm here to tell you that's bullshit and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

Many of you know some of the people I’m talking about. Mayor Michael Nutter in Philadelphia. Governor Pat Quinn in Illinois. We’ve come to expect union-busting, anti-worker tactics from ultra-conservatives like Scott Walker and John Kasich. But now, everybody’s on the bandwagon.

Look at Nutter. AFSCME members in Philadelphia haven’t had a contract in four years, and Sister Baylor knows it. What does the mayor do? He goes to the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court to get a legal decision that would let him shove his contract down our throats. He’s no different from Governor Snyder in Michigan, who went to his state’s Supreme Court to get legal cover for cutting school employees’ pay. Different political parties, same political games.

Look at Governor Quinn. He has waged a relentless war on state employees – slashing pensions, driving down incomes and wiping out jobs. Last year he took the unprecedented step of terminating our contract. He is the first and only Illinois governor, Republican or Democrat, to take such a blatantly aggressive action.

I have had enough of these turncoats, and it’s time to make them pay.

Hostilities between organized labor and some of the nation's most prominent, state-based Democrats are hardly a new phenomenon. Before Quinn and Nutter rankled AFSCME, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did the same with unions in his state.

But the swipes in Saunders' speech are notably sharp -- especially the ominous pledge to "make them pay" -- and they illustrate the extent to which these hostilities are no longer confined to closed-door budget fights. With states and cities feeling the pinch, lawmakers have been going after organized labor with greater frequency, altering pension plans to be less generous, changing retirement age laws, or, in several cases, targeting collective bargaining rights.

In Nutter's case, a battle over the mayor's push to impose contract terms on the city's largest union is being petitioned up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Saunders' grievance against Quinn, meanwhile, is based on the governor's decision not to renew Illinois' contract with AFSCME this past November. Quinn had been pushing for a pay cut for state workers, as well as a wage freeze and a new policy that would have employees paying more for their own health insurance coverage.

Neither Quinn's nor Nutter's office immediately returned requests for comment.

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. -- Brooke Anderson, Quinn's press secretary, referred The Huffington Post to an op-ed the governor wrote in late September, in which he framed his policies as necessary for restoring the state's fiscal footing and eliminating duplicitous or wasteful programs.

"Bellicose rhetoric is not going to address Illinois’ financial challenges," Anderson added in an emailed statement. "The governor respects the collective bargaining process and the right to organize. He’s been a lifelong ally of the labor community, leading the state’s largest capital construction program in history to put thousands of workers back on the job. He has long championed increasing the minimum wage and protecting workers’ rights.

"Governor Quinn inherited massive financial challenges from decades of mismanagement by previous governors and legislatures. He did not create these challenges, but he is committed to addressing them," the statement continued. "In these difficult economic times, trade unions have made concessions. Auto unions have made concessions. And the union of government employees will have to understand the importance of making concessions to acknowledge the fact that the current path of credit downgrades and debt is unsustainable."

Meanwhile, Nutter's press secretary Mark McDonald sent over the following email, pushing back on Saunders' attack and laying blame for the standoff in Philadelphia at the feet of the local union.

First, Mayor Nutter is a strong supporter of unions, their rights to bargain and engage in collective action. But at the same time, he also is mindful of the cost of government and has sought through efficiencies and new methods to bring high quality service to Philadelphians.

The reality is that pensions and healthcare costs are consuming more and more city resources that would otherwise be spent on quality services or returned to the taxpayers’ pockets.

[snip]

Mayor Nutter believes in collective bargaining. And that’s why he’s seeking an end to this impasse. In fact, it’s the Union that has refused to come to agreement. All they say is NO.

Indeed, the City has repeatedly offered enhancements to its contract proposal, adding a second year of pay raise and more health care funding and reducing the number of furlough days being sought from 30 to 15. And in the upcoming Five Year Plan, the City has no immediate plan to actually employ furloughs, which will only be used in the context of a real fiscal crisis.

[snip]

Name calling and efforts to vilify elected officials point out the poverty of the Union’s bargaining position. They are happy to talk about more raises but they don’t want to help the City establish a more sustainable budget in the years to come. They prefer hobbling future administrations with only one tool to use in a recession – layoffs. Mayor Nutter says that furloughs save jobs in the long run.

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