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updated: 8/16/2012 5:39 AM

Massive protest mars Quinn's day at state fair

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  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, right, tries to greet supporters Wednesday while surrounded by booing union members during the Governor's Day rally at the Illinois State Fair.

      Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, right, tries to greet supporters Wednesday while surrounded by booing union members during the Governor's Day rally at the Illinois State Fair.
    Associated Press

  • Pat Quinn

      Pat Quinn

Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn's special day at the Illinois State Fair wasn't so special.

Booing, chanting union protesters drowned out some of his remarks, saying his hits on wages and retirement benefits betray the Democratic Party's tradition of supporting labor.

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Quinn probably would have preferred devoting Wednesday -- Governor's Day at the fair -- to talking up party unity and building enthusiasm for the fall political campaigns. Unions, however, used the day to draw attention to their grievances with Quinn and other leading Democrats.

They're furious that Quinn canceled raises required under union contracts with the state, even after employees agreed to postpone the raises and take voluntary furlough days.

They object to his plans to cut thousands of jobs by closing prisons and mental health facilities, and they're fighting efforts to reduce retirement benefits for state employees, teachers and university staff.

"When you get cut, it hurts, and people scream," said Democrat William Adams of Wheaton, a candidate for Illinois House.

One union member said the state's Democratic leaders aren't interested in helping workers.

"I don't believe the Democrats are the party of the working class. The Democrats are the party of the politicians, same as the Republicans," said Dave Scheina, who recently retired from the Department of Children and Family Services. "They'll all tell you whatever it takes to get elected."

At the state fair, protesters chanted "Respect Illinois workers" and "Gov. Quinn has got to go." They shouted "liar!" as Quinn spoke to the crowd of Democratic officials and activists and largely drowned out his speech, which Quinn ended after 2 minutes.

Quinn said taxpayers support his efforts to cut labor costs and get rid of the "pension piggy bank for retired state workers."

Before the rally began, union protesters surrounded Quinn as he ate a pork lunch at a picnic table, chanting and yelling as state police officers looked on.

The demonstrations foreshadow lawmakers' meeting in Springfield Friday, where they're poised to discuss state employee and teacher pensions once again.

Observers have said coming to agreement to cut benefits could be tough to do in one day, and forceful labor opposition Wednesday could make it even harder.

"I agree with them," said state Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat. "I may be voting with them. That doesn't mean we shouldn't give the governor his due respect."

• Daily Herald state government writer Mike Riopell contributed to this report.

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