The Illinois Education Association represents over 100,000 suburban and downstate public school teachers. About 1,000 union leaders attended the session Friday afternoon at the Chicago Hilton and Towers.
"Don't compare me to The Almighty, compare me to the alternative over here," Quinn said.
The governor realized his advantage over challenger Bruce Rauner, who during the Republican primary campaign railed against public sector unions and their bosses.
"Eliminating collective bargaining is not part of my agenda," Quinn said.
Rauner clearly was the defensive during the one-hour session.
"I just call it as it is," he said. Get out there and share my views. And I respect teachers. I've been a big teacher advocate my whole career."
"I'm not going to charterize this system of education in Illinois," said Quinn.
But the governor, before an audience of public school teachers, launched not so subtle attacks on Rauner's support for more charter schools. But the republican said Quinn had manipulated budgets and cut funding for public education.
"Years ago, he said I will treat education funding as a top priority. What did he do? He cut education funding when he did not have to," said Rauner.
"Don't be confused by those who say tax less, spend less. That means learn less," Quinn said.
"Listen to him saying more money for this, more money for that," Rauner said. "Fund this, fund that. He has broken his word to you for five years."
They sparred over pension. Rauner wants the defined benefit program ended for current and future employees.
"More of a 401k style plan so that you control your own retirement accounts," he said.
"A risky 401k style plan for our teachers in Illinois? No way, as long as I'm governor we're never gonna do that," Quinn said.
The governor clearly was the crowd favorite among leaders of a union that supporter Rauner's primary opponent Kirk Dillard. For the Republican, the risk was worth it.
"Sure, sure there's some folks who disagree but that's going to be true," Rauner said.
Rauner said later, today marked his first time ever to meet Pat Quinn. If this event was an indication of how debates might go next fall then this could be a campaign to remember.