Fraught relations between Democrats and unions

Illinois Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn wears a button of 'Cheer Up' as he listens during a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama during the National Governors Association meeting. Quinn has been facing scrutiny from union workers for his attempts to cut state workforces and employee benefits.

Jeremy Hobson: Well in Illinois today, unionized workers at a Caterpillar plant will vote on a contract to end a four month strike.

A strike that has put the state's governor in an awkward position, as Elizabeth Wynne Johnson reports.


Elizabeth Wynne Johnson: Early this week, Gov. Pat Quinn was a Democratic politician in his element, shaking hands and pledging support for striking machinists outside a Caterpillar plant in Joliet. Caterpillar has been pressing for wage and other concessions, and Quinn handed over a check to help support the machinists who vote today on a new contract.

But two days later:

News report: At the state fair grounds, hundreds of uninvited union members crashed the Democrat’s ‘Governor’s Day’ picnic.

Quinn got booed by unionized state workers -- upset over his own attempts to wring concessions from public employees. It’s part of Quinn’s efforts to plug the state’s budget shortfall.

Kenneth Janda: A Democratic governor can’t really do that and still be seen at the same time as being loyal to his base.

That’s Northwestern University political science professor Kenneth Janda.

Quinn’s not the only governor facing budget woes -- and looking at cuts to state workforces and employee benefits. Consider California and New York, both led by Democrats. Steve Smith is a spokesman for California Labor Federation.

Steve Smith: There’s  a common misconception at play which is, you know, if a governor of a state happens to be a Democrat, that Democrat is going to agree with labor 100 percent of the time on everything. And that’s just not the case.

Quinn and his counterparts in New York and California perhaps have the luxury of squaring off against unions this year. None of them is up for re-election.

I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson for Marketplace.

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