Pritzker Takes Heat Over Union Busting, Prosecutors File Motion to Revoke Van Dyke Bail, IDOC Sued – Third Coast Today 08-31-18

Pritzker Criticized for Alleged Union Busting, Commits to Talking with Workers

Billionaire gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker faced criticism for one of his companies engaging in an attempt to bust unionization efforts by its workers, but after several confrontations, he committed to sitting down to talk to them about their organizing efforts.

Billy Dean, an employee of Sea Dog Ventures, a boat tour company that does cruises along the lakefront, posted a letter to Facebook Tuesday from parent company Entertainment Cruises sent to employees in an attempt to dissuade them from joining a union.

JB Pritzker shakes hands before Chicago’s annual May Day march. Photo by Aaron Cynic/File

“There’s only one way you can guarantee that you can avoid the problems that a union could possibly cause,” reads the letter in part. “Just SAY NO!”

Entertainment Cruises is owned by the Pritzker Group, which is the gubernatorial candidate’s private venture capital firm.

In his post to Facebook, Dean says he began the campaign to unionize company workers after working long hours with no breaks for less than the $15 an hour minimum wage that Pritzker has said he supports making the state minimum wage.

“Working 12-15 hour days with no break really wears on you,” wrote Dean on Facebook. “There was no discussion of this change, there was no apology, there was no warning. So I did what any rational person would do. I started unionizing my company. We’re winning currently, but the company just started their anti-union campaign. What is real interesting about this is I work for J.B. Pritzker, ‘pro-union’ gubernatorial candidate for Illinois. Right now his progressive rhetoric doesn’t match his action.”

Pritzker has been a vocal supporter of unions across Illinois, and has garnered the backing of many of them in the upcoming election. In a response to the call-out from Dean, the Pritzker campaign said that he believes in “workers’ rights to collectively bargain as an important tool toward raising wage,” and that he had stepped away from his role at the company.

“JB has stepped away from Pritzker Group and is no longer involved in the management of the company,” the campaign said in a statement published by Capitol Fax. “He believes that all employers should respect those rights of workers and unions.”

On Wednesday Chicago alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa penned a letter to Pritzker demanding he intervene.

“Mr. Pritzker, you are one of the richest men in the world, and I find it shocking that you would oppose an organizing effort that was initiated to correct these injustices,” wrote Rosa. “You need to offer a clear choice for voters in November. You need to be pro-union, and lead by example.”

Pritzker was captured on video posted to Youtube Thursday reiterating that sentiment to workers who confronted him in front of the Thompson Center.

“We know you’re not in charge of the day to day operation but you have an ownership stake…we know we can work this out together,” one person in the video tells Pritzker. “I’ve stepped away from the business and am trying not to directly have any interaction,” Pritzker responds. “But I have very publicly now…I think the company will know as a result of this conversation and our statements today…about my views about your right to organize and I very much want to stand up for you,” he adds before committing to sit down with the workers and talk “as soon as we can.”

Illinois Department of Corrections Sued Over Canceling Debate Program for Stateville Prisoners

The Illinois Department of Corrections is facing a lawsuit over canceling a debate program at Stateville Correctional Center after the class debated state parole laws a few weeks ago.

“Program participants decided to debate how Illinois might implement a parole system,” wrote the Uptown People’s Law Center in a press release emailed to Third Coast Review. “Believing that Illinois should provide opportunities for parole for prisoners with long and/or life sentences, they prepared draft legislation that would restore a system of parole in Illinois.”

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Katrina Burlet, the coach of the debate team. The lawsuit claims that IDOC officials “suppressed protected speech” of the class of 14 students, along with causing harm to Burtlet’s professional interests and reputation. It also alleges that one official made veiled threats after terminating the program, specifically regarding filing a lawsuit.

The UPLC says than two weeks after the parole debate, Gladyse Taylor, assistant director of IDOC, “arrived unannounced at a regularlys cheduled debate class and expressed her dissatisfaction about the debate.” Taylor allegedly said that she didn’t approve of the class communicating with legislators and that the debate would “get in the way of IDOC’s pursuit of its own legislative agenda.”

The UPLC slammed IDOC for what they called a “clear violation of the First Amendment” in a press conference earlier this week in front of the Thompson Center.

“You cancelled our debate class. You locked out our debate teacher,” wrote Michael, a previous member of the debate team in comments that were read at the conference. “But you cannot cancel out the confidence and dignity that we’ve gained through learning, through being treated as human.”

“This is absolutely a First Amendment issue,” said Liz Mazur, legal director of Uptown People’s Law Center, who is bringing the lawsuit. “Prisoners have a right to freedom of speech under the Constitution. This program was canceled because legislators took prisoners seriously, and IDOC retaliated against Ms. Burlet because she helped make the prisoners voices heard by the legislators and the public.”

Prosecutors File Motion to Revoke Bail for Jason Van Dyke

The special prosecutor in the trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke filed a motion demanding Van Dyke’s bail be revoked after the officer gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune.

According to ABC7, Special Prosecutor Joe McMahon says that Van Dyke is in indirect criminal contempt of court for the interview published this week, where he portrays himself as persecuted for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times in October of 2014, killing him. Van Dyke is the first Chicago Police officer to face a charge of first degree murder for killing someone on duty in more than three decades. He faces a 20-year-to-life prison sentence.

“I might be looking at the possibility of spending the rest of my life in prison for doing my job as I was trained as a Chicago police officer,” Van Dyke told the paper, who also said he offered up a rosary every day for the McDonald family. He also said that allegations of racism against him are false, and that political pressures have surrounded his case.

Demonstrators march along the Magnificent Mile in October 2017 urging shoppers to boycott black Friday purchases to fight for police accountability. Photo by Aaron Cynic/File.

“Everyone wants to be part of the bandwagon of hatred. Anyone who knows me, knows me personally, knows … that I’m not a racist,” said Van Dyke. “I think there’s been a lot of external political pressures. It just seems like politics has been involved with this since the beginning.”

Van Dyke’s attorney criticized the motions against his client in a statement provided to ABC7.

“This is a very sad day in case that has seen many firsts. The attempt to revoke or increase Jason Van Dyke’s bond for exercising his First Amendment right is an egregious abuse of power.”

Van Dyke’s trial is scheduled to begin next Wednesday, and rallies and protests are already being planned for the morning outside the Cook County Criminal Court building at 26th and California. The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression said in a statement emailed to the press that local community members plan to attend, as well as others from at least six states in the Midwest. Solidarity demonstrations are also being planned in New York City, Jacksonville, Florida, Dallas, Louisville, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City.

“It is up to the people to make this the first time a white police officer has been indicted, tried and convicted of murdering a Black person,” wrote organizers in a Facebook event. “We must do this to end the cowardly, racist past practices where the police murder and brutalize us with impunity and bring about a new day of justice where police are held accountable for the crimes they commit against the people.”

Recommended Reads

What Trauma Docs Know – Kim Bellware/Amrita Marino – Chicago Magazine

Why Do We Get Labor Day Off? You Can Thank Chicago Workers – Kelly Bauer/Block Club Chicago

Peace League Tournament At St. Sabina Puts Rival Gang Members On The Same Court To Find Common Ground – Lee Edwards/Block Club Chicago

16 Shots – A podcast about the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the trial of Officer Jason Van Dyke, and the troubled relationship between African-Americans and the Chicago Police Department – WBEZ/Chicago Tribune

Aaron Cynic
Aaron Cynic