CFL News
April 20, 2012

Jorge Ramirez: Illinois offers lessons for Wisconsin governor

In an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, Jorge Ramirez says Illinois' unions have helped improve the state's economy while Wisconsin has attacked unions, and lost jobs

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Jorge Ramirez

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been spending a lot of time in Illinois of late. This week, he visited our capital of Springfield, and on Friday he is scheduled to make appearances in Chicago and Lincolnshire. Who can blame him? Our state’s economy and job growth have far surpassed Wisconsin’s during his time in office.

But the message Illinois’ working families want to send to Gov. Walker is that his divisive, anti-worker politics have no place here in Illinois.

Illinois has created jobs while respecting and even partnering with organized labor, while Wisconsin has done just the opposite. Here in Illinois, our elected leaders have partnered with working men and women to create jobs in both the public and private sectors. From Illinois’ ten-year capital bill to the thousands of new jobs at Ford and Chrysler, the men and women of organized labor have played a role in bringing back the economy, adding jobs and stabilizing our communities.

Meanwhile, since Gov. Walker took office, Wisconsin is dead last among the 50 states in job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2011, while Gov. Walker was busy stripping public employees of their collective-bargaining rights, Illinois added 32,000 jobs and Wisconsin lost 21,000, the worst performance in the nation.

Gov. Walker likes to criticize the business climate in Illinois, though Wisconsin’s private-sector job growth ranks 36th in the nation, according to the BLS, and lags far behind its midwestern neighbors, including Illinois.

This year, the bipartisan Tax Foundation ranked Wisconsin a dismal 43rd in the nation for business-friendly tax environments under Gov. Walker, well behind Illinois. In 2011, Illinois exports grew by 29.98 percent, leading the Midwest, while Wisconsin’s 11.41 percent export growth was well below the national average of 16 percent, according to the Trade Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Not only has Wisconsin lost jobs under Gov. Walker, but he has led efforts to erode workers’ rights that help build a strong middle class, a strong economy and strong communities. Collective bargaining helps workers negotiate for middle-class wages, health-care benefits and modest retirement security.

Not satisfied enough to stop there, Gov. Walker recently repealed the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act, a law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to plead their case in court.

While Illinois is taking steps forward toward the future, Gov. Walker is holding Wisconsin back. Both our states have strong labor movements with hard-working union members in the public and private sectors. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They deserve to be treated as partners. It’s not only good politics, but good business.


Jorge Ramirez is president of the Chicago Federation of Labor.