Operating Engineers Local 150 makes $1M pledge to Vallas


The headquarters of Operating Engineers Local 150, at 6200 Joliet Road in Countryside.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A powerful construction union that contributed $1 million to vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is making the same financial commitment to Paul Vallas.

Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers put big money behind its political muscle after joining three other trade unions—IBEW Locals 9 and 134 and Plumbers Local 130—in endorsing Vallas.

Three months ago, a poll bankrolled by Local 150 before the union made its $1 million commitment to Garcia showed Garcia leading Mayor Lori Lightfoot by 7 percentage points in the first round of the mayoral sweepstakes and clobbering the incumbent by 31 percentage points in the runoff.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Lightfoot was eliminated after finishing third with 16.8% of the vote behind Vallas at 32.9% and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson at 21.6%. Garcia finished fourth with 13.7%.

Now, Local 150’s so-called “Fight Back Fund” is making the same $1 million commitment to Vallas it made to Garcia.

“Paul Vallas has experience working in government. … He’s got a collaborative approach. We think he has a track record to put the city on track to bounce back from the depths that it’s at right now as it relates to safety, the dysfunctional relationship with law enforcement and an adversarial inter-governmental relationship,” said Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher.

Over the years, Johnson has called defunding the police a “goal” — not a political slogan. He has steered clear of the term during a mayoral campaign dominated by the surge in violent crime.

But he has pointedly refused to commit to filling 1,700 vacancies in the Chicago Police Department or fully funding the CPD’s $1.94 billion budget.

On Monday, Maher cited those reasons for steering clear of Johnson.

“Safety in the city is an extremely important thing to our members and for the future of development in Chicago. Calls to defund police and things like that were concerning,” Maher said.

“The number of police are down. It’s our belief that the city and the next mayor has to take a cooperative approach with law enforcement. … Law enforcement has to be a part of the solution that keeps the city safe.”

Yet another concern for Local 150 is Johnson’s $800 million plan to tax the rich to help bankroll $1 billion in new spending on public schools, transportation, housing, health care and job creation.

“The environment … for development is … far from ideal. The amount of construction starts that are taking place in Chicago right now are lower than they have been for many years pre-pandemic,” Maher said.

“The city needs leadership that is going to re-instill confidence in the safety of the city and allow developers to feel comfortable opening their checkbooks.”

Local 150 has a notoriously outspoken president in Jim Sweeney — and a track record for putting its money where Sweeney’s mouth is.

In the 2011 mayoral race, Local 150 endorsed Gery Chico. Sweeney denouncing Rahm Emanuel, the eventual winner, as a Wall Street “Judas” with “bags of silver” who sold out union workers when he helped muscle the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress. Mayor Richard M. Daley denounced that remark as an antisemitic “disgrace.”

In the 2019 mayoral race, Local 150 urged its members to vote against Daley’s brother, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, who missed the runoff, finishing third behind Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

More recently, Local 150 donated $1 million to Kari Steele’s campaign for Cook County assessor — but incumbent Fritz Kaegi breezed to reelection.

Before endorsing and bankrolling Garcia, Maher acknowledged Local 150 had talked to Garcia about the union’s support for a stalled ordinance — opposed by at least 11 other unions — that would require a crane operator’s license for any equipment able to lift over 1,000 pounds. The existing threshold is 2,000 pounds.

But he categorically denied the union’s $1 million pledge to Garcia was predicated on any commitment to support the crane ordinance.

Vallas has not taken a position on the stalled crane ordinance. Maher said Local 150 has not discussed the matter with Vallas.

Johnson is a paid organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union. His campaign is being bankrolled and staffed by the CTU and SEIU Locals 1, 73 and Healthcare.

Over the weekend, Johnson was endorsed by AFSCME Council 31. And on Monday, Johnson picked up endorsements from 36 newly-elected members of Chicago’s 22 police district councils.

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March 13, 2023 at 04:29PM

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