Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Seeking Re-Election, Emanuel Gets More Love From Labor Unions

The Chicago boss collects $60,000 from electricians' and plumbers' groups

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Emanuel Gets Labor Union Love

Tatiana Walk-Morris

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Mayor Helps Break Ground on Wolf Point West

Luxury rental units, office, retail space and possibly a hotel planned for development.
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Not every Chicago labor union is coalescing behind prospective mayoral candidate Karen Lewis.

When Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to herald the ground-breaking of Wolf Point West Tower -- a 48-story, $160 million development on the Chicago River -- Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, and Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, took the stage to sing the mayor's praises.

"Thank you to Rahm Emanuel for all that you've done to bring good middle class construction jobs to the city of Chicago," declared the burly Trades Council boss Villanova on Friday, adding: "And I will let you know, as far as labor's concerned, Congressman Rahm Emanuel had a 95 percent lifetime labor voting record and we appreciate that. ... His vision and leadership has brought projects that were dreams or blueprints lying on some architect's desk into a reality. He's made it possible for our members to go to work, pay their bills and support their families."

The lovefest continued as Ramirez praised Emanuel's attention to less visible, below-ground infrastructure projects that he said contribute as much to the Chicago economy as flashier developments like Wolf Point.

Emanuel's relationship with the building trades has remained intact amid opposition from the Lewis-fronted Chicago Teachers Union and local progressive organizations. Of course his pro-business, pro-economic agenda would attract support from elected labor leaders whose interests align with City Hall. As head of the powerful CTU, Lewis has been an Eva Peron-style champion for teachers facing layoffs, school closures and the loss of their pensions (along with police and fire unions).

This past Wednesday, Emanuel collected a $50,000 check from Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and $10,000 from Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562. And last month Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union quietly donated $25,000 to Emanuel's re-election campaign in what some believed to be an unspoken political endorsement of the mayor despite a rocky history of mutual mud-slinging. (The chapter reps aviation workers, crossing guards and other laborers across the city and state.)

Earlier this month, Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU's Local 1, penned an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times commending Emanuel's proposal increase the minimum wage from $8.25 to $13 per hour by 2018. Wrote Balanof: "Chicago needs a strong economy that works for all — not just the wealthy few. We must find a way to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour or too many workers will remain trapped in poverty-wage jobs that burden taxpayers with employers’ responsibilities."

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