WOODSTOCK – A standing-room-only audience of union members opposed to Gov. Bruce Rauner's "Turnaround Agenda" could not dissuade the McHenry County Board from passing a resolution supporting it.
Board members voted Thursday morning, 16-5, to adopt a symbolic, nonbinding resolution supporting the agenda, despite the pleas and threats of election-year consequences from a packed room of union members calling it a bad deal for ordinary residents.
Speakers over the course of almost 90 minutes, both union members and former Democratic members of the County Board, blasted Rauner's calls for local power to enact right-to-work laws by referendum and the elimination of prevailing wage laws and other unfunded mandates.
McHenry resident Jeff Peters, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, was among many who called the proposed reforms an attack on the middle class.
"The union has provided for me. It's given me the opportunity to earn a decent wage and have decent benefits ... this agenda you guys are looking at is an attack on that. It's an attack on me, it's an attack on these people," Peters said. "Please do not do this to the lifelong residents of McHenry County. Think about what you're going to do."
But County Board members immediately after public comment approved the symbolic agenda after less than 30 minutes of debate of its own, most of it supportive.
Board member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, called the agenda "not anti-union but pro-taxpayer," and Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, called it "an important first step in getting our state on the right track."
"Local control is how we are going to make better decisions, because it's not going to diminish the voices of people locally, but they will empower and enhance them," Kurtz said.
Rauner himself stopped in Woodstock and Johnsburg on Wednesday as part of a statewide tour to take his case directly to the voters, given that his proposals will certainly face stiff resistance from Democrats who hold supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate. A number of County Board members met with Rauner to express their support.
And local union members spent Thursday morning taking their case to the County Board. The Woodstock City Council on Tuesday evening tabled a similar support resolution under pressure from a union audience so large that it forced the council to move its meeting to a larger facility.
Local 150 member Dan Schrader called the Turnaround Agenda, specifically right-to-work laws, a "direct assault on the middle class" and a "slap in the face of the American dream." Others, like Sheet Metal Workers Local 265 member Brian McSherry, warned that County Board members who put union members' livelihoods up for grabs will do the same for themselves in future elections.
"If you're going to come after our wages and benefits ... then we're going to come after yours as well," McSherry said.
A number of union members brought up the fact that Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently ruled that his proposed concept of "local empowerment zones" are not legal. Rauner has countered that they would be with the appropriate legislation.
David Sheahan, a lifelong Marengo resident and member of Laborers Local 1035, said prevailing wage laws helped him pay for his home and provide for his family.
"I hope you just didn't look at this because the billionaire gave it to you," he told board members with a reference to Rauner's wealth.
A motion was made by Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, to send the resolution to its legislative committee for review before a formal vote is held, but her request was rejected.
Among the few who spoke against the resolution was Anna May Miller, R-Cary, who said she had "no comfort" in supporting it without first seeing whatever legislation is filed to advance it.
"Anybody who has dealt with legislation knows the devil is in the details," she said to applause from the audience.
But board member Charles Wheeler, R-McHenry, defended Rauner's proposed changes, noting that "the state is literally bankrupt" and the time for small measures has long passed.
"We cannot continue to be mandated by the state and federal government to do projects and programs that we can't afford," Wheeler said.
Several audience members shot back with remarks during County Board members deliberations, and Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, on several occasions asked for decorum.
How they voted
The McHenry County Board voted Thursday morning, 16-5, to adopt a resolution supporting the "Turnaround Agenda" of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Voting yes were John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake, Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove, Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, Larry Smith, R-Harvard, Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, Charles Wheeler, R-McHenry, Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock, Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove, and Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake.
Voting no were Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, Anna May Miller, R-Cary, Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills, and Michael Skala, R-Huntley.
Board members Michael Rein, R-Woodstock, John Jung, R-Woodstock, were absent. Member Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, attended the meeting earlier but was not present for the vote.