Labor leader James Sweeney out at tollway board

  • James Sweeney was not reappointed to the Illinois Tollway Board.

      James Sweeney was not reappointed to the Illinois Tollway Board. Daniel White | Staff Photographer, 2011

Updated 7/25/2017 8:07 PM

Labor union leader James Sweeney, who accused Gov. Bruce Rauner of trying to "destroy the labor movement" in Illinois and once parked an inflatable rat on the tollway lawn, won't be reappointed to the tollway board.

Rauner chose not to keep Sweeney, president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. His term expired in May.


A Local 150 spokesman confirmed an official told Sweeney last week that his term wouldn't be renewed.

The move leaves the tollway with a quorum for a Thursday meeting but down one out of nine board members.

"They're losing a lot of expertise ... there's no longer any directors with firsthand knowledge (of road construction) during one of the largest capital expansions in the tollway's history," Local 150 Communications Director Ed Maher said.

Sweeney landed an inflatable rat at tollway headquarters in 2016 to protest hiring a nonunion contractor.

"We will be making a decision regarding this appointment in the next week or two," Rauner spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Tuesday.

It's unclear who Rauner will pick as a replacement although there may be pressure to choose someone from Lake County as the agency faces criticism over deciding to study extending Route 53 north.

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Three tollway directors are from the Cook County suburbs, two are Chicagoans, two reside in DuPage County and another lives near Rockford. Sweeney is from Chicago.

Reflecting Rauner's push to curtail the power of public-sector unions, the tollway board voted in 2015 to nix a 21-year agreement requiring contractors to hire collective bargaining units in exchange for guarantees of no strikes or walkouts.

In addition to the rat, Local 150 also picketed a tollway contractor working on I-90 that owed the union money.

In May, Rauner reappointed three other directors whose terms were ending: Chairman Robert Schillerstrom and directors James Banks and Earl Dotson.

Sweeney was appointed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in 2011.

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