THE BLOG

The President, The Governor and Pullman

02/25/2015 11:12 am ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

Last week, I had the honor and fun of taking my 10-year-old son James to Chicago's Pullman neighborhood to attend the signing ceremony for President Obama's Executive Order declaring the Pullman Historic District Illinois's second national monument. (The other is Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield.) I thought it would be good history for James, but I couldn't have guessed at the lesson in irony it provided.

It was extraordinary. As you may know, Pullman was the birthplace of A. Phillip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first of all black trade unions and a critical engine that helped build the African American middle class in this country. The President's remarks were strikingly thoughtful and truly moving at this national celebration of collective voice, and civil and workers' rights. Just as striking, and ironic, was the presence in the audience of Illinois's new Republican Governor, Bruce Rauner, who is attacking workers' rights with an historic intensity.

Governor Rauner has proposed drastic, unnecessary cuts to social services that disproportionately hurt everyday families and has made villainizing unions his top priority. One of his first official actions was a blatantly illegal power grab seeking to silence the collective voice of workers through executive order limiting the collection of dues, and a federal lawsuit aimed at workers and their unions. The billionaire Governor who spent more than $20 million of his own money (in addition to another $40 million from others) in the most expensive gubernatorial race in state history has the chutzpah to suggest unions have an outsized influence in politics! I guess in his ideal world the tycoons would go unchecked.

Gov. Rauner has suggested unconstitutionally gutting the retirement security and health insurance of retired teachers and other public servants. And his recent budget proposal is built on the backs of working families and balanced not with revenue but, presumably, a magic wand. He has let expire Illinois's 2011 income tax rate, a move which puts nearly 50 percent of the total tax savings in the hands of Illinois's richest 11 percent, while decimating the social safety net and education for the rest of us.

So, as my son and I sat there at Pullman, listening to the President's stirring remarks about justice, workers' rights, history, and the national park service, I couldn't help but think that Rauner must not have been there to celebrate labor, like President Obama and the other 1000 attendees. No, Rauner must have been the one person there to celebrate George Pullman, the millionaire union-busting industrialist.

For fun, here is a compendium of some recent remarks made both by the President and Governor Rauner:

President Barack Obama (Pullman, 2/19/2015)

"Over the years, Brotherhood leaders and supporters were fired, they were harassed. But true to A. Philip Randolph's call, they stood firm, they held their ground. And 12 years to the day after A. Philip Randolph spoke in that hall in Harlem, they won, and Pullman became the first large company in America to recognize a union of black workers.

And this was one of the first great victories in what would become the Civil Rights Movement. It wouldn't be the last victory. It was his union that allowed A. Philip Randolph to pressure President Roosevelt to desegregate the defense industry. It was those Pullman porters who gave the base by which A. Philip Randolph could convince President Truman to desegregate the Armed Forces. It was those porters who helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, who were the central organizers of the March on Washington.

"...as Americans, we believe that workers' rights are civil rights. That dignity and opportunity aren't just gifts to be handed down by a generous government or by a generous employer; they are rights given by God, as undeniable and worth protecting as the Grand Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains."

"We must eliminate this sort of political dealing. Government unions should not be allowed to influence the public officials they are lobbying and sitting across the bargaining table from through campaign donations and expenditures. That has been federal law since 1947."

President Obama

"It's why we keep fighting to help working families feel more secure in a constantly changing world with child care and equal pay, a higher minimum wage, and paid sick days -- something I know that's on the ballot here in Chicago. It's why we have to keep fighting to treat these issues like the economic priorities they are. But they're also ideas about justice and fairness and the worth of every individual."

Governor Rauner

"These zones will give employees the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union. Local communities - local voters - deserve this option so that they can compete with other states and other nations for new businesses and new investment."

President Obama

"So in 1893, a recession struck America. Pullman slashed his workers' pay, some saw their wages fall dramatically. Pullman didn't take a pay cut himself and he didn't lower the rents in his company town. So his workers organized for better pay and better working and living conditions. A strike started here in Pullman, and it spread across the country. Federal troops were called to restore order; and in the end, more than 30 workers were killed.

Eventually, they returned to their jobs. But the idea they had sparked, the idea of organizing and collectively bargaining, couldn't be silenced. Could not be silenced. And so just six days after the strike ended, an act of Congress established Labor Day -- a day to honor working men and women of America. And gradually, our country would add protections that we now take for granted: a 40-hour work week, the weekend, overtime pay, safe workplace conditions, and the right to organize for higher wages and better opportunities."

"They see government union bosses negotiating sweetheart deals across the table from governors they've spent tens of millions of dollars to help elect. That's a corrupt bargain, that's a corrupt bargain, and the people of Illinois are left to wonder where do they fit in? Who's looking out for them and their families?"