Imagine a place where a factory worker is twice as likely to be killed in a workplace accident. Imagine employees being forced to work 12-hour shifts, six or even seven days a week, for poverty wages. Imagine workers with little or no training operating equipment known to be unsafe, where lost limbs, burnt flesh and other catastrophic injuries are commonplace. Where severely injured workers are left to support their families with pennies on the dollar compared to what they would receive in states like Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, or even Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee.
This place isn’t some third-world sweatshop. According to a recent investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek, these factories lie only a few hundred miles south of us in Alabama. The investigation revealed the underpinnings of Alabama’s “manufacturing renaissance” to be low wages, dangerously unsafe working conditions and no recourse for working men and women victimized by this push for bigger corporate profits.
These findings serve as a warning for Illinois, because the tragic working conditions in Alabama are simply the end result of the same wage-cutting, corporate-profit-boosting race to the bottom Governor Bruce Rauner wants to bring to Illinois.
Bloomberg’s reporting on Alabama shows how Rauner’s agenda of cutting wages and workplace protections to boost corporate profits comes at a high price for middle-class working families. Alabama’s low wages mean a higher percentage of their population rely on welfare and food stamps. As employee safeguards are rolled back, tragic accidents increase, and permanently disabled workers and their families are hung out to dry by their employers and become reliant on the state.
In right-to-work Alabama, long hours are met with wages that keep families in poverty so that corporate CEOs can make more money. To pad corporate profits, Alabama has gutted its workers’ compensation system, and accidents are on the rise. Fatal workplace injuries in Alabama’s manufacturing sector are more than 30 percent higher than the national average, but workers maimed and permanently disabled on the job receive paltry assistance. Alabama’s workers’ compensation system was recently ruled unconstitutional, when it was found that severely injured workers are left in extreme poverty.
This is Bruce Rauner’s vision for Illinois: A sweatshop economy, where middle-class families pay a huge price to further enrich big corporations.
We can all agree Illinois needs to do more to grow our economy and create jobs. But House Democrats refuse to believe that the only way to create jobs is to cut middle-class wages and strip away workplace protections.
We are proposing economic reforms that create jobs while lifting up the middle class, not tearing it down. We’re working to cut corporate income taxes, which disproportionately affect small and medium-sized employers, while also closing loopholes that allow big corporations to pay nothing. We want to invest in businesses that invest in Illinois by reinstating the EDGE Tax Credit for employers who create jobs here in Illinois, while banning all taxpayer-funded deals for corporations that ship Illinois jobs overseas.
And we’re working for reforms that put more money in working families’ pockets by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Democrats stand ready to work with Gov. Rauner to implement real reforms that lift up Illinois. But we should not turn our state into a new Alabama. We should not engage in a race to the bottom, put workers lives at risk, slash the economic security of the middle class to boost corporate profits and pretend it’s reform.