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labor Union Leader Calls Rauner a 'Jackass,' Vows to 'Take Him Out' in 2018

Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, along with other trade union leaders addressed the Illinois delegation to the Democratic Party Convention and pledged support to Council 31, AFSCME who has threatened to go out on strike.

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"We are partners in this fight. We are your family in this fight," Saunders continued. "But if a family member is attacked, I expect our family members to help us. Help us defeat Rauner."

The focus on Rauner, who is not on the ballot this year, goes beyond standard partisan politics. The governor has spent much of his first 18 months in office waging a multifront war against labor unions that includes a simmering contract dispute with AFSCME Council 31, the largest state employee worker union, and insistence that lawmakers enact limits on collective bargaining rights and prevailing wage laws before Rauner will agree to a full budget deal for state government.

Rauner laughed off the union attacks, turning to his usual call for key reforms to how Illinois government operates.

"We need major reforms. We've been losing our jobs, our taxes keep going through the roof, we have budget deficits and we cut our school funding," Rauner said during an event at a central Illinois farm calling for the Democrat-controlled legislature to put a term limits constitutional amendment referendum on the 2018 ballot.

While he did not mention unions specifically, the governor made a veiled reference, saying "our system is broken because our political system is broken." Rauner has contended that he's trying to end the "corrupt bargain" between labor and politicians, which he blames for the state's financial woes and Democrats' firm grasp on power in Illinois politics.

Saunders told the gathering that the union views the situation in Illinois as "ground zero" in its efforts to beat back political threats. If AFSCME workers in Illinois end up striking against Rauner's proposed new contract for state employees, Saunders said the national union would dispatch resources to the fight.

"If Council 31 goes on strike, I want to make this real clear: An attack on them is an attack on our national union, and we're going to fight like hell to protect our members," Saunders said. "Make no mistake about it, when we engage in battle, AFSCME engages in battle. We aren't letting anyone stomp on the rights of our members across the state of Illinois."

Following Saunders was a series of speeches from officials representing the Laborers' International Union of North America, which sponsored the day's delegation breakfast. Union executive board member Terry Healy reminded delegates of the close ties between labor and the Democratic Party of Illinois, which is chaired by House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is Rauner's chief nemesis at the Capitol.

Healy lauded Madigan as "our best line of defense against the so-called turnaround agenda," a reference to Rauner's plan, which includes changes to state laws that would restrict collective bargaining rights and the rights of workers who are injured on the job.

Terry O'Sullivan, the union's general president, went a step further.

"Excuse my French. ... I think your governor's a jackass, to tell the truth," O'Sullivan said to cheers and applause. "Whoever the candidate is, in 2018, we're going to take Gov. Rauner on, we're going to take him out and we're going to replace him with a Democrat who has the same values."

As the breakfast wound down and delegates were getting their marching orders for the convention activities ahead, Madigan slipped out of the room and found O'Sullivan mingling outside. The two chatted for about 10 minutes, with Madigan giving O'Sullivan a slap on the back as they parted ways.

Shortly after, Madigan took questions from reporters about who the Democrats will field to challenge Rauner in his bid for a second term.

"I think the best speaker I had for today was Terry O'Sullivan," Madigan said with a smile. "Maybe he should run for some big office."

Chicago Tribune's Bill Ruthhart and Monique Garcia contributed. Garcia reported from Springfield.