Elk Grove favors local control of 'empowerment zones'
A passionate, 90-minute debate between Elk Grove Village trustees and labor representatives Tuesday ended with the board unanimously voting to support the parts of Gov. Bruce Rauner's "Turnaround" agenda that call for local authority over the granting of "local empowerment" or right-to-work zones.
Mayor Craig Johnson, who didn't vote but strongly endorsed the resolution, argued that it was not anti-union but rather pro-local control.
"I would think as union people you would like this," Johnson told the crowd, but heard only laughter in response. "This gives you a chance to have your voices heard by people who know you. You have more voice in your local community than you ever would statewide."
Other suburbs that already have addressed Rauner's turnaround agenda have responded in different ways.
Naperville, Libertyville, Mundelein and Wauconda are among those that have shown no support. But as of last week, East Dundee, McHenry County, Round Lake Beach, Rockford, Third Lake and Wayne were among 27 communities that have approved it.
Kane County, Aurora Township, Campton Hills, Vernon Hills and Pingree Grove have either tabled the proposal or voted it down.
Johnson said his village board has not discussed at all the possibility of enacting a local empowerment zone in Elk Grove but thought local control could protect union workers against any statewide action by Springfield.
"I don't know enough about it to say yes or no right now," Johnson said. "But we want to make it our decision, not dictated to us by someone else."
Johnson said he believes strongly in all units of government, including the village, standing by the promises they've made in the payment of pensions. But he's made no secret of the fact that he would prefer to see all the village's police officers and firefighters hired after Jan. 1, 2016, enrolled in 401(k) retirement plans, rather than pensions.
But even with the local control he says he wants, Johnson said he was skeptical any one town acting alone could enact such change. That would have to be made at the state level anyway, he said.
Local schoolteacher Kathy Griffin of Schaumburg, who grew up in Elk Grove Village, was among those who argued on behalf of the value unions bring to protecting equity and fairness in society. She reminded the village board that Attorney General Lisa Madigan has already ruled that Rauner's proposed empowerment zones would violate the National Labor Relations Act.
"I strongly encourage you to defeat this proposal," Griffin urged the board.
Several other speakers were Chicago residents who lead various labor unions. They argued that corporations are making more money in the recovering economy by taking benefits away from their workers. Only the unions are there to fight for workers' fair share of success, they said.
But Village Trustee Pat Feichter, a retired teacher who currently lives on a pension himself, said he read the proposed resolution over and over but came to the conclusion that its language was very general and not at all anti-union or harmful.
Johnson said the parts of Rauner's agenda that trustees left out of Elk Grove's resolution included term limits and requiring a referendum for every significant decision.
"We don't agree with everything the governor's doing, but we do agree the governor's trying to make some changes that are needed for the state," he said.
Johnson added that many of his fellow mayors have balked too quickly at the prospect of any change at all, given the poor financial condition of the state.
"It's going to take a little pain from all of us to get out of this," he said.
Johnson told audience members Tuesday he would welcome their return to discuss these issues in more detail if they ever came up again, but said he personally doubted such matters ever would come back to the village.