When state lawmakers passed the bill approving a Chicago casino, Mayor Lori Lightfoot texted Chicago Federation of Labor president Bob Reiter her gratitude.
“Could not have done it without you!” she wrote.
Then last month, when the City Council approved Lightfoot’s plan for a $1.7 billion casino, hotel and entertainment venue in River West — an effort bolstered by the CFL’s enthusiastic support — Lightfoot publicly thanked him as they stood together.
The casino’s passage wasn’t the only significant achievement of Lightfoot’s first term in which Reiter played an important role. The labor chief backed Lightfoot’s $15 minimum wage hike, pushed through a workplace scheduling ordinance that had been bottled up for years under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and even provided key muscle to pass Lightfoot’s 2020 budget, which included a $94 million property tax hike and no layoffs.
While Lightfoot’s fights with the Chicago Teachers Union and Fraternal Order of Police have drawn significant public attention and helped define her tenure in office, the mayor has quietly built a strong relationship with some labor leaders, including Reiter, who appreciate her record on worker issues. The mayor’s relationship with Reiter in particular underscores how Lightfoot and labor have worked together on key policy changes, even though the relationship is sometimes fraught with conflict.
“When it comes to working with Mayor Lightfoot, I approach it like I would approach any mayor. I’m not there to be a validator. I’m there to honestly assess every situation we’re working on and making sure we’re advancing the cause of labor,” Reiter said. “On a number of issues, Mayor Lightfoot has been a partner in that.”
Texts between the two reveal plenty of behind-the-scenes battles. Reiter acknowledged their occasional conflicts but summarized his relationship with the mayor as one between two honest brokers who respect each other despite their differences.
“It’s not something where we’re trying to pull each other’s ass out of the fire,” Reiter said. “We are working towards common goals. There’s some other things where we haven’t agreed and there’s even some things where … we didn’t get to a compromise.”
Lightfoot’s relationships with labor will help shape her political fortunes in the 2023 mayoral race. The CTU, for instance, is likely to throw its power and influence behind a candidate who opposes the mayor. Trade unions are generally expected to give Lightfoot much-needed support as she works to beat back a field that so far includes five challengers. It remains to be seen whether some groups that endorsed her in the 2019 runoff, like the firefighters union, will back her again.
But the mayor has also quietly built a productive working relationship with the Service Employees International Union, which was the top donor to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the 2019 mayor’s race.
Nikki Hayes, former president of the LiUNA Local 1001 chapter, which represents city workers, recently donated $1,000 to Lightfoot’s re-election campaign and in an interview said the mayor has “always supported labor.”
Lightfoot did not address Tribune questions about her relationship with Reiter or other union leaders but released a statement touting her personal labor roots.
“I’m the daughter of low wage workers in a struggling steel town, who held multiple jobs to make ends meet. I watched my own parents face low wages, poor working conditions, job instability and other exploitation. And I saw how labor unions could transform the lives of those workers through the power of collective bargaining,” Lightfoot said. “That’s why, as soon as I was elected, I knew I wanted to use my platform to work with the labor movement to push a bold, pro-worker agenda. I’m incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made for the hundreds of thousands of workers in this city.”
In her first few months as mayor, Lightfoot pushed through the fair workweek ordinance, requiring large Chicago employers to give workers at least two weeks’ notice of their schedules and compensate them for last-minute changes. After aldermen approved the measure, Lightfoot invoked her mother’s difficulties juggling her work with caring for her family.
Lightfoot’s first budget later that year also included a $15 minimum wage hike long sought by local unions.
Throughout the summer of 2019, Reiter and Lightfoot worked closely on the fair workweek, in particular. When hospitals began pressuring aldermen to use a parliamentary tactic to delay the bill, Lightfoot texted Reiter that she was “personally pissed” and “told my team to tell those folks in no uncertain terms that we will take a very dim view of any (such) effort.”
“I was livid when I heard about this yesterday,” she added.
The two celebrated its passage together at a news conference but had a spat later that summer, after Reiter did not thank Lightfoot during a gathering of various labor leaders.
“Oh, that’s right. No one from the mayor’s office did a single thing to facilitate the passage of the Fair work week that was stuck for 2.5 years,” Lightfoot texted Reiter. “It makes perfect sense to me that you would give zero acknowledgement of me or my team. Guess you can do $15 all by yourself too. Good luck.”
Reiter responded: “Lori, did not mean to trivialize your work or staff’s work on workweek. I would hope you know I don’t work like that and give me the benefit of the doubt. I’ve stood with you publicly on it all summer.”
The next morning, Lightfoot messaged him after talking with her close political advisor Joanna Klonsky with something resembling an apology.
“I spoke to Joanna after the two of you talked,” Lightfoot texted. “I understand better your intent, but the oversight remains problematic. Nonetheless, I should have called first and given you the benefit of the doubt.”
Reiter’s response was diplomatic: “We’ll work thru it.”
The mayor continued to work with Reiter and other labor leaders to enact other union-supported measures. On New Year’s Day, she also thanked Reiter for his “wise counsel” and joked that she would “try harder to follow for my own good.”
Then, in 2021, Lightfoot signed the “right to return to work” ordinance, which requires hotels to give laid-off workers first crack at coming back to their old jobs as businesses rehire and the economy returns to normal as the COVID-19 pandemic eases. She also pushed through protections for domestic workers, including a mandate that they have written contracts.
Earlier this year, the mayor supported a higher minimum wage for thousands of workers at Midway and O’Hare airports. Allies of the Service Employees International Union, which pushed the measure, grumbled behind the scenes that it took too long, but it got done and the union was pleased with the results.
But Lightfoot’s conflict with the teachers union has been a hallmark of her time in office. It also has at times tested her relationship with Reiter.
Just months into Lightfoot’s term, the union held a rally with Bernie Sanders ahead of its walkout vote where Reiter declared, “If it’s time to strike, then f—— strike!”
Southwest Side. Ald. Matt O’Shea, 19th, texted Lightfoot the next morning: “Has Bob Reiter offered his help or been a part of the negotiations with the CTU? … or has his role been limited to inciting the CTU leadership?”
Image 1 of 53
Vice President of Chicago Teachers Union Stacy Davis Gates speaks to the media concerning negotiations between the union and the mayor on Oct. 16, 2019. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
Lightfoot answered, “I am extremely disappointed with his comments last night, and frankly shocked given his previous partnership. He had to be there, he had to say things supportive of workers, but urging a strike was totally beyond the pale. He has now officially picked sides.”
That strike ended after 11 days of missed classes. Union members complained afterward that Lightfoot forced them to strike by refusing to fulfill campaign promises for fully staffed schools, while the mayor countered that they planned to walk out “no matter what.”
The pandemic hit only a few months later, leading to a series of showdowns with the union over when schools would reopen and with what safety measures. By January 2021, with the union refusing to teach in person, Reiter served as a key behind-the-scenes figure during tense negotiations. When a deal was finally in sight, Lightfoot texted Reiter to ask for his help getting CTU President Jesse Sharkey to stand with her at a news conference.
“Hey, if we get this done today, I think it is really important that Jesse and I stand together,” Lightfoot said. “I know that is a tough ask for him because of the politics on his side, but this is important for the city.”
Reiter responded: “I’ll try and ask him when the time is right.”
Hours later, the talks appeared on the verge of falling through and Lightfoot sent Reiter a more pessimistic note.
“Sorry to say, I just don’t think we will get there,” Lightfoot said. “They (added) new elements today and have effectively told us take it or leave it. I just don’t see the path at this point. I know you worked hard on this which I really appreciate.”
That set off a sharp series of exchanges between Lightfoot and Reiter, who responded, “Well unfortunately I don’t see it the same way.”
“When you are working out the details, maybe it appears that some new elements are new, but that’s not accurate. The flexibility is on your side,” Reiter said. “If there’s a lockout and then a strike, it won’t be because of the union in these final moments. You have the ability to set this right.”
“Well, I am not surprised you see it that way,” Lightfoot responded. “These folks have not been good actors and I was willing to swallow a lot but the constant moving targets, and never being able to rely on their (word) is an impossible place to be.”
Reiter said he was “witness to everything all week” and accused her of “letting this deal go.”
“If it’s bc of CPS leadership, so be it,” Reiter said. “Jesse has been an honest broker to get this deal done.”
“I was giving you a courtesy heads up. You should surely know by now that I don’t cave to bullying or pressure,” Lightfoot said. “CTU’s actions and demands are causing labor strife as I am hearing every day from more and more folks who say ‘They treat you like s—, we support you, but you are giving more to these people who work every day to destroy you than you are doing for your allies.”
That argument, Lightfoot said, “is very compelling to me.”
Reiter responded, “And I’m giving you my point of view as a courtesy… I also want you to know, that I’m (not) just supporting Jesse bc (he’s) my board member. I’m supporting him bc I believe he did the work to get this deal done. I hope you don’t see my thoughts as bullying.”
One of Lightfoot’s most contentious union issues involved her COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which was hotly contested by Fraternal Order of Police and resulted in the city and police union suing each other.
Reiter’s CFL worked with the city on various pandemic responses, helping set up an emergency COVID-19 field hospital at McCormick Place in 2020 and a vaccination site for essential workers in 2021. But Reiter also said requiring vaccines for city workers was not “the right path to significantly increase vaccine uptake” and “may harden opposition.”
In a text, Lightfoot compared Reiter to FOP President John Catanzara, who had compared the mandate to the Holocaust.
“Bob, seriously? I just got asked about comments that you made and I thought it was John Cantazara,” Lightfoot texted Reiter. “I know you are smarter than that and perhaps you are feeling pressures, but good grief.”
Reiter fired back in a heated string of messages.
“How about you announcing a policy before we’ve given you a counter. I told every single person at that table multiple times that you were going to force me to speak publicly. And comparing me to John Catanzara’s comments is purely offensive. Full stop,” Reiter said. “And maybe you should read my full statement. And understand that the people of color in your workforce are scared.”
Lightfoot and Reiter also clashed in March, as Lightfoot considered a gas tax holiday.
“If you guys are going to be moving to suspend the motor fuel tax for the city, we will be opposing,” Reiter texted the mayor. “It’ll save someone $1.60 on a 20 gallon tank. It’s not savings, it’s bad public policy.”
“Thanks for your opinion,” Lightfoot responded. “Perhaps we should talk before lines are being drawn.”
Still, the two have shared more lighthearted, supportive comments. When Lightfoot denied interviews to white journalists for her two-year anniversary in office — a policy she said was aimed at highlighting the lack of diversity in the media but which critics called a publicity stunt — Reiter texted her his support.
“Everyone with white privilege decided to call me today,” Reiter said. “Didn’t work out for them.”
“Love it! One day out of 365 and apparently I am now Bobby Seals — ok, I’ll wear that jacket,” Lightfoot responded, in an apparent reference to Black Panther Party cofounder Bobby Seale.
One of the biggest moments for Lightfoot and labor came in 2020, as the mayor worked to pass what she called her “pandemic budget.”
At first, Lightfoot proposed significant job cuts and furloughs, but the CFL worked with City Hall to get those cuts out of the budget and then lobbied extensively to help Lightfoot gather up the votes.
Her budget passed 29-21, a rare tight margin for a Chicago mayor’s budget, and the result was in doubt for days leading up to the vote.
“The city had worked with us at that point and we thought it was important then to see it all the way through and protect those jobs,” Reiter said about the endeavor. “The mayor put together a budget that we were able to impact and protect jobs. We had to make sure that budget got passed and it was a good budget for the city of Chicago.”
via The Windy City Word – We project a positive image of the community
June 7, 2022 at 05:38PM