CHICAGO - Democrat J.B. Pritzker received a key endorsement in the race for Illinois governor: the Illinois AFL-CIO is putting its support behind the billionaire candidate.
Chanting outside of a Governor Bruce Rauner event on the Far South Side, union workers came to protest the governor's anti-union policies. Labor is already playing a big and early role in the governor's race, as Rauner said Tuesday's Illinois AFL-CIO endorsement of J.B. Pritzker is more of the same.
"The leaders of special interests groups have been doing well they like to defend the status quo," Rauner said.
With 288 days before the primary, the powerful labor group says the highly unusual early endorsement of Pritzker is necessary to defeat Rauner. Because Pritzker has the money to compete with the governor, it frees up the AFL-CIO's financial resources to concentrate on building support in local races.
"Organized labor can build a coalition, it can aggregate votes, it can do education," said University of Illinois Labor Professor Bob Bruno.
Professor Bruno says a labor endorsement can also make a big difference in a close primary and general election race.
"If organized labor can push in the right direction, that extra few percentages can make all the difference," he said.
On the other hand, some of Pritzker's democratic opponents are hoping the endorsement of J.B. Pritzker plays into their progressive campaigns.
The Chris Kennedy campaign writes, "it's about Springfield establishment insiders who cut deals and circumvented the normal endorsement process," and State Senator Daniel Biss says "the working people of Illinois deserve better than being told they have to support a billionaire, whose family fortune was enriched by anti-union behavior."
Candidate Ameya Pawar released a much tamer statement. He says "will always be a steadfast supporter of organized labor." Other big labor organizations, such as AFSCME, SEIU and the teachers say they will go through their standard vetting process before making endorsements.