• Greg Hinz On Politics
  • Greg Hinz On Politics

    Powerful union pushes 'right-to-work' ban in Illinois

    It's proposing an amendment to the state constitution. Business groups are fighting back.

    Illinois Capitol Springfield
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    Hoping to nail shut a door that former Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to pry open, a major state labor group is moving to put Illinois permanently off-limits to efforts to ban so-called union shops in the state.

    The move is being led by International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, a large, well-funded building-trades group with considerable influence on both sides of the aisle in Springfield.

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    79彩票注册网址IUOE specifically wants the Legislature this spring to approve—and send to voters for final action on the November ballot—a proposed constitutional amendment banning right-to-work laws in the state. While political conservatives strongly favor such laws, arguing that workers should not be required to join a union and/or pay dues as a condition of employment, labor groups assert right-to-work laws are an effort to disempower working people.

    The exact language of the proposed amendment is not yet available. But the union has begun discussing it with legislative leaders and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and it says an actual amendment will be filed later this week by Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, and Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa.

    Villivalam’s office confirmed he is sponsoring the proposed amendment. (See below for his comments.) Yednock was not immediately available for comment.

    The question of and union membership has been highly controversial in Illinois, with Rauner in particular moving to limit union power.

    The proposed constitutional amendment is likely to draw considerable attention and money from business groups, with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Manufacturers’ Association already protesting.  

    “Lawmakers need to focus on policies that grow jobs and investment in Illinois, not drive employers away,” IMA President Mark Denzler said in a statement.

    79彩票注册网址However, it also could drive turnout by union members in an election in which Pritzker already is trying to win approval of another amendment: authorizing a graduated income tax. 

    While Pritzker this spring signed legislation banning strictly local right-to-work laws, a new governor and Legislature could reverse that. Putting such a ban in the constitution would make it much, much more difficult to undo later. 

    The right-to-work ban amendment is needed because, after years of “playing defense,” labor “needs to go on the offense,” Local 150 communications director Ed Maher told me. “Collective bargaining is the rising tide that lifts all boats. Right-to-work laws are a threat.”

    Local 150 provided much of the muscle behind the “lockbox amendment” that was enacted by voters a few years ago. It guaranteed that all taxes on gasoline and cars generally be used only for roads and related transportation needs.

    Maher said the 23,000-member union is prepared to spend what it takes to get the proposal through. Other labor groups have not yet signed on but are expected to do so. Maher also said the proposal has “overwhelming bipartisan support” in the Legislature, with the union having held “constructive discussions” with key Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

    Neither House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, nor Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, had an immediate comment on the plan. Notably, House GOP Leader Jim Durkin took an initial neutral stance; a spokeswoman for the Western Springs Republican says he is aware of the proposal but has not seen its language and currently has “no position” on it.

    Business leaders I contacted do have a position: They don’t like it.

    “At first glance, we’d be opposed to that,” Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch told me. “Illinois doesn’t need right-to-work laws to compete, but given that surrounding states have them, we think it ought to be an option. To shut it down for all time (via an amendment) is misguided.”

    IMA’s Denzler tied the proposal to Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax amendment: “I find it a bit ironic lawmakers can amend the constitution to raise income taxes on families and businesses and prohibit employee choice in the workplace.” If unions want to get involved in a needed amendment, he added, they should back one to limit the state’s pension liability.

    Pritzker’s office said only that passage of the income tax amendment is his priority, ducking direct comment on IUOE’s proposal. Nor did Pritzker’s office directly comment on some political chatter than the union will strongly push Pritzker’s proposal only if he gets behind theirs.

    Local 150’s Maher denied there is any linkage.

    While most neighboring states have right-to-work laws, , and its experience perhaps explains why IUOE is going the referendum route. Missouri's Legislature passed such a law in 2017, but the measure was overturned in a referendum the next year after a hard-fought campaign in which the two sides combined spent more than $20 million.

    Rauner strongly favored right-to-work laws, taking a case involving dues for state workers all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He won that case, but efforts to extend that into the private sector fizzled out.

    2:30 update: Villivalam's message is pretty simple: The Rauner era is over.

    “The people have spoken,” Villivalam said, referring to Pritzker’s defeat of Rauner in the 2018 election. “They clearly don’t want Illinois to be a right-to-work state” because such laws hurt workers.

    79彩票注册网址Villivalam, who was the sponsor of the current law banning local right-to-work statutes, said passage prospects for his amendment “look great,” with actual language to be introduced in early February or so. “This is the central issue for Illinois labor and collective bargaining. . . .We need stability.”

    The senator said he’s not yet spoken with Senate leadership, but adds, “There’s no reason to think they won’t be supportive.”

    Meanwhile, a spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Bill Brady said he, too, will withhold any comments until he gets a chance to read the actual amendment.

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