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Illinois Governor Said to Have Sought High-Paying Union Post

December 9, 2008
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Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested Tuesday, December 9, for allegedly trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat, considered a deal that would make him the head of a 6 million-member union-backed organization pushing for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, according to a criminal complaint.

Using wiretaps, federal authorities said Blagojevich discussed approaching an official of the Service Employees International Union, one of the seven unions that joined together in 2005 to create Change to Win, to seek a high-paying job at Change to Win in exchange for filling the vacant Senate seat with a candidate believed to be favored by the union.

Change to Win spokesman Greg Denier said in a statement that the organization first learned of the governor's alleged activities when the complaint was made public Tuesday.

"No one connected with Change to Win ever considered, discussed or promised any position at Change to Win to Governor Blagojevich, his staff or his advisers. In the affidavit released by the United States Attorney, a position at Change to Win is discussed only in conversations between the governor and his advisers."

Though an unnamed SEIU official allegedly met with Blagojevich to discuss his appointment of a Senate candidate, prosecutors did not charge the union or the official with any wrongdoing.

SEIU spokeswoman Ramona Oliver said in a statement: “We have no reason to believe that SEIU or any SEIU official was involved in any wrongdoing.”

The Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for workers to join a union, is among labor’s top priorities. It requires companies to recognize a union when a majority of workers sign cards authorizing one.

Obama’s victory in November provided new momentum to the bill, which was approved by the House in 2007 but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

A governor’s aide said during wiretapped phone conversations between the governor and an advisor that Blagojevich, in return for being appointed head of Change to Win, could then help the Obama administration to pass legislation favored by the union.

Blagojevich, who complained that he was struggling financially, said he wanted to make between $250,000 and $300,000. He said he did not want to be governor for the next two years.

Later, Blagojevich asked if the union could hire his wife at Change to Win until the governor himself took a position there.

—Jeremy Smerd

Workforce Management’s online news feed is now available via Twitter.

 

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