With just days left before the General Assembly’s scheduled adjournment on May 31, a lot of legislation is moving in Springfield. But only one constitutional amendment has gained traction.
Both chambers passed it, which means it will be on the ballot next year, when voters decide whether they want to enshrine in the constitution the right to unionize.
The amendment reads:
“Employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work. No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and work place safety, including any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or application of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.”
State Rep. Lakeshia Collins, a Chicago Democrat who worked as a certified nursing assistant in nursing homes and was a labor advocate with Fight for 15 and SEIU Healthcare Illinois, says workers drive the economy and are deserving of protection.
“We must not forget about the people who are actually doing the work: the hotel workers, hospitality, the cab drivers, the ones who are washing the windows, the ones who are serving your food at the table,” Collins said during the House floor debate Wednesday. “Businesses, they come here in droves, because there are many loopholes for them to come here and suck Illinois dry.”
But Republicans, who largely voted against it, said that businesses aren’t flocking to Illinois, citing the state’s laws, poor credit rating, high property taxes and reputation for corruption.
State Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, says the constitutional amendment is a pre-election favor from Democrats to their generous labor union backers.
“This isn’t about men and women in hats, slamming hammers and building stuff. These are the people right outside this door ready to send contribution checks to get you re-elected,” he said.
The proposal comes years after former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to advocated for right-to-work laws that would diminish the power of unions; the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision, filed by Rauner allies, means that non-unionized government employees cannot be required to pay union fees.
“We’ve been passed a period of time in which the rights of workers have been systematically diminished, unfortunately in places like Missouri, Montana and places across this country, these pitiful, ridiculous laws continue to be pushed throughout this country,” said sponsor Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago.
But Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said given Illinois’ issues, the rights of union workers shouldn’t be the priority.
“Maybe a constitutional amendment to address the ethics issues we have,” he suggested. “Maybe a constitutional amendment on property taxes that are driving people out of this state. And then I thought about it, I said, ‘It’s been a clown show with this redistricting thing. Maybe we’re going to do a constitutional amendment on a fair map.’”
While Gov. J.B. Pritzker had previously promised to end gerrymandering, Democrats have kept for themselves the ability to draw the new legislative districts that impact future elections.
Republicans are furious, but even louder are protestations from a swath of community organizations and government reform advocates who say Democrats relied on problematic survey information — rather than waiting for census data — to draw a map that is, therefore, inherently flawed.
“I’ve been trying to stress throughout this process that Illinois should be a beacon in this process. We’re a national leader in voting rights,” said Jay Young of Common Cause Illinois. “When we hear that Illinois is following in the shoes of states like Oklahoma that are taking advantage of the pandemic and (former President Donald) Trump’s sabotage of the census, national observers are rightly worried that states that wish it salience voices will follow our lead.”
Dilara Sayeed says the Muslim Civic Coalition and allies participated in 22 redistricting hearings previously, but upon seeing the maps released by Democrats it was clear that their input wasn’t taken into account.
“What you are hearing today is not one community’s voice saying, ‘We’ve got to do better.’ Not three communities’ voices saying, ‘We’ve got to do better,’” she said. “You’re hearing from the Latino community, from the African American community, the African immigrant community, the Jewish community, the Muslim community, the Chinese community, the Asian communities. You’re hearing from all of us saying: ‘Please don’t approve maps, please don’t vote yes on maps, where our voices and our leadership and our communities have not been heard.’”
Democrats say there’s time for that at hearings like the one in which Young and Sayeed testified on Tuesday.
“There’s certainly things I think that we can take from the witnesses’ testimony here. This is hopefully going to make a better product based on the hearing, why we’re here today,” Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, said.
Democrats have repeatedly preached transparency, but after repeated questioning they refused to say exactly what information they used to decide where to draw the boundaries.
For the first time in 60 years, Democrats have also introduced a plan that would redo the current Illinois Supreme Court districts.
This, after Justice Thomas Kilbride, who ran as a Democrat, lost a retention battle last year, meaning the party could lose control of the court.
The thinking is that Democrats would have a better chance at winning under the new proposed map.
Also in the works …
A lot more is still in the works as the legislature stares down its end-of-May deadline: Exelon is seeking a subsidy the company argues is needed to make a pair of nuclear plants financially viable while environmentalists are seeking support for renewable energy; a new budget must pass; there’s emphasis on an ethics package, particularly after former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s former chief of staff, Tim Mapes, was indicted Wednesday for obstruction of justice in relation to an ongoing federal investigation into corruption within Madigan’s circle (Madigan has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing, as did Mapes in a statement from his attorneys on Wednesday).
Senate President Don Harmon all but promised that a bill will get to Pritzker’s desk that gives Chicago Public Schools an elected school board; a measure, which previously passed the House, advanced out of a Senate committee Wednesday.
Sen. Rob Martwick’s House Bill 2908 would create a 21-member, all elected board. But Harmon gave assurances that won’t be the final plan.
“I am confident that we will pass a compromise elected school board bill this General Assembly,” he said.
Negotiations continue, with an effort to create a hybrid board of some members elected and others appointed by the mayor, as a transition to an all-elected board.
Video: State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, reacts to the indictment of Tim Mapes.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky