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Is Long for unions or against?

Is Long for unions or against?
Is Long for unions or against?

Republican State Rep. Jerry Long says he has voted the way of unions more than half the time since taking office in January 2017. But unions say the lawmaker from Streator has rarely sided with them.

Last month, Long told The Times he voted with unions about 80 percent of the time. Local union members pointed to the scorecard put together by the Illinois AFL-CIO, which showed Long had a 11 percent pro-union voting record.

Long angered unions last year when he voted against overriding Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of banning right-to-work zones. Long had originally supported the legislation, but switched his vote, saying he objected to criminal penalties for officials who violated the bill's provisions.

Long is up for election this year. Two Democrats, Lance Yednock and Jill Bernal, are vying in the March 20 primary to face Long.

In 2016, Long defeated Rep. Andy Skoog, D-La Salle, who received a 99 percent from the AFL-CIO.

Long's spokesman, Michael Smaniotto, said a closer analysis showed Long voted with unions 56 percent of the time.

In a statement, Long called his previous number an estimate of his voting record.

"I was using a bit of hyperbole in response to the unions disappointingly low account of my voting record, which I believe is a good indication of my pro-union, pro-business platform," said Long, a longtime Teamster truck driver. "It should be clear, that by giving me such low scores, union leadership and Speaker (Michael) Madigan are doing whatever they can to discredit me so they can take back this seat in November."

As a general rule, Smaniotto said, Long counted bills for which unions staked a position.

But Smaniotto said Long excluded a couple of union-backed bills that were "obviously political or detrimental" to Long's 76th House District, which includes most of La Salle County.

One of them was an increase of the minimum wage to $15. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, Smaniotto said in an email, could have called for a vote on the bill when Democrats controlled both the Legislature and the governor's office for more than a decade, but chose to introduce the bill last year to try to discredit Rauner.

The other excluded bill, Smaniotto said, would have required Starved Rock State Park to only sell Illinois-made items on its premises.

"Starved Rock reached out to us on many occasions to ask us to vote against this, because it would negatively impact their sales and the many direct and indirect jobs that they provide the community," Smaniotto said.

'Deserve more weight'

According to the AFL-CIO's analysis, Long supported seven of 25 union-backed bills, which works out to 28 percent.

The union said it weighed bills differently, which resulted in the 11 percent number. For instance, the bill banning right-to-work zones got more weight than one requiring employers to notify employees of the presence of bedbugs, said Bill Looby, spokesman for the AFL-CIO.

"Some bills deserve more weight than others," Looby said in an interview.

Every lawmaker, he said, was graded by the same standard.

Smaniotto questioned why the AFL-CIO included budget and tax increase bills, which the union supported.

"How those bills are concerning union labor is beyond me. They also included SB1, the failed school funding reform bill, but not the compromise that Rep. Long supported that ultimately passed. It's obviously very biased," he said in an email.

Looby said the budget bill was important for the state, saying the lack of one for two years nearly destroyed Illinois.

'Never a slam dunk'

As for the minimum wage, Looby said it takes several sessions to pass an increase.

"The minimum wage is always a battle with Republican and some Democrats. It's never a slam dunk even when you have Democrats running things," he said.

He disagreed with Long's decision to exclude the minimum wage bill from the union voting analysis.

"The minimum wage is something we have fought for since the beginning of the labor movement," Looby said. "It's disingenuous to remove votes to make you look better."

Smaniotto said it's hard to be both pro-labor and pro-business, but Long seeks to help both business and unions thrive.

Looby agreed labor and business would be on the opposite sides of issues.

"In the end, an elected representative like Long has to decide who he will stand with," Looby said. "That's why we do voting records. You can see where legislators are on bills."

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