By: Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) – In a strike against public employee unions, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on Monday signed an order eliminating union dues for some state employees who do not want to pay to support union activities.
Rauner, a Republican and political neophyte who came into office in January, has been vocal about his problems with public labor unions and their political power. The order, which would eliminate so-called “fair share dues,” affects 6,500 state workers who are represented by a union but have chosen not to join.
“Forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers,” Rauner said in a statement. “Government union bargaining and government union political activity are inexorably linked.”
The action is likely to be challenged in court. The Rauner administration said dues would be placed in escrow during the legal process.
Rauner has argued that reforms are necessary to heal the state’s financial problems. He has also proposed “empowerment zones” – areas where voters could decide if workers must join unions and pay dues.
Illinois has a chronic structural budget deficit, and the lowest credit ratings and the worst-funded pension system among the 50 states.
Rauner said he based his action on a review of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year in Harris v. Quinn, which found that Illinois law violated the First Amendment by forcing home healthcare aides to involuntarily pay union fees.
Roberta Lynch, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the largest public labor union for state workers, called the move “a blatantly illegal abuse of power.”
“Our union and all organized labor will stand together with those who believe in democracy to overturn Bruce Rauner’s illegal action and restore the integrity of the rule of law,” Lynch said in a statement.
“It’s a frontal assault on unions,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert and professor at University of California-Berkeley. “He is interpreting the Harris-Quinn opinion, which was narrowly constructed, into a broad mandate.”
Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Illinois Council, also criticized the order.
“Rauner’s minimum wage plan would guarantee that hundreds of thousands of low wage workers in Illinois would remain below the federal poverty line through 2022,” Balanoff said in a statement.
Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, said Madigan has “urged Rauner to focus on near-term budget concerns.”
State Senate President John Cullerton, also a Democrat, said his legal staff is reviewing Rauner’s order.
Rauner’s anti-union rhetoric has been compared with that of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who pushed for legislation that made union fees voluntary for state workers, among other changes.
By: Kerry Lester
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters during a news conference in his office at the Illinois State Capitol Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, in Springfield, Ill. Rauner stepped up his campaign against government employee unions by eliminating so-called “fair share” dues paid by workers who don’t join a union. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner struck a first official blow on Monday against the public sector labor unions he has frequently criticized by ordering an end to a requirement that workers pay dues even if they decide not to join a union.
His executive order sets up a fight with the state’s powerful labor unions, a key ally of members of the Democratic-led Legislature, just as Illinois has begun divided government for the first time in more than a decade. Unions immediately lashed back, while top Democrats questioned the legality of Rauner’s action and said their legal teams would review it.
Rauner, a wealthy businessman and self-described admirer of governors in Wisconsin and Indiana who’ve championed anti-union policies, said 6,500 state employees are paying so-called “fair share” dues, or an average of $577 a year per worker.
Rauner frequently criticized organized labor during his campaign for governor, saying they hinder economic growth by stifling competition and have far too much political influence in President Barack Obama’s Democratic-leaning home state.
“These forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargaining that is crushing taxpayers,” Rauner said, adding that forcing non-union employees to pay union dues requires them to fund political activity they don’t agree with.
Rauner said he took action after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last July that found state labor law violated the First Amendment by mandating home health care workers have union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.
The order, Rauner said, would have “no impact” on employees who wish to remain paying members of the union and fund union activities out of their paychecks.
Rauner said the union dues requirement was something, “I am duty bound to correct.”
But it was unclear Monday whether Rauner was on solid legal ground, as the Supreme Court decision found certain workers didn’t have to pay “fair share dues” but upheld that requirement for “full-fledged state employees.”
Rauner said a legal team headed by a former U.S. attorney and lawyers at Chicago-based firm Winston and Strawn will handle a plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to declare “fair share” provisions unconstitutional.
Unions pledged to stand together to reverse the order. Rauner can be overruled by the courts, or if lawmakers can gather enough votes to override his decision. Democrats hold supermajorities in the state Legislature.
The executive order followed Rauner’s proposal last week, during his State of the State Address, for Illinois to adopt “right to work” zones around the state where communities are able to decide whether joining a union or paying union fees would be voluntary for local workers.
“This is really a smoke-screen for what the billionaire governor wants to achieve,” Tom Balanoff, President of Service Employees’ International Union Local 1 said. “He wants to bring right to work to this state. It’s going to lower peoples’ wages, lower their benefits.”
Roberta Lynch, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 31, called the executive order a “scheme” to weaken unions and strip state workers of their rights.
Some members of the Democratic-led Legislature suggested it was a distraction as Rauner grapples with an unprecedented budget crisis stemming from the expiration of the state’s income tax increase in January. The expiration of the tax increase is expected to leave the state with close to a $2 billion budget hole by the end of the fiscal year this July, and more next year, leaving key programs and services underfunded.
“I don’t understand why he wants to throw down the gauntlet on an issue like this,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat. “He should have enough on his plate.”
By: Monique Garcia
As Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner sets his sights on limiting the influence of unions in Illinois, he’s pushing an idea he’s dubbed “empowerment zones” — areas across the state where voters could decide if workers in their communities should be forced to join a union or pay associated dues.
It’s a variation of what is more commonly called “right to work” — rules put in place at a statewide level to prevent unions from requiring workers who decline membership to pay related fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining they still benefit from. The concept, which generally applies to private-sector unions, has gained traction among conservative politicians across the nation as states try to spur economic growth following a brutal recession that saw businesses close and tax dollars dry up.
The like-minded new governor is unlikely to get a statewide ban on forced union membership from a General Assembly firmly controlled by Democrats, who historically have relied on employee unions for support come campaign season. Empowerment zones represent a trial program on the local level.
“I’m not trying to force the whole state to go right to work, I’m not advocating that,” Rauner said Friday at a stop in Decatur. “I want local voters, I want you to be empowered to decide this issue for yourselves, in your cities and in your county. I want that everywhere in the state. And the counties that liked the status quo and liked closed shop, keep it. Terrific. Those who want to compete and recruit more manufacturing firms and transportation companies, terrific.”
Rauner views right-to-work laws as a way to make Illinois more attractive to businesses that weigh operating costs here with other states. If companies come, Rauner argues, so do jobs and the associated tax dollars to help support government. To opponents, the policy is purely an attempt to weaken unions and drive down wages. They contend such measures cause more harm than good, as workers make less money and are forced to then rely on government assistance programs.
Taken with other ideas Rauner unveiled during his State of the State speech Wednesday, empowerment zones are being seen by some as just one piece of an all-out assault on unions and Illinois Democrats. Rauner also called for a ban on political donations by unions, giving taxpayers a say in the collective bargaining process at the local level, and ending the requirement that prevailing union wages be paid to workers on state and municipal construction projects.
“I’d think if I was a public-sector worker that Governor Rauner has declared war on us,” said Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Illinois State Council, which represents workers who provide home health care, janitorial and maintenance services.
Rauner rejects that notion, saying he’s not “anti-union” but merely endorsing the “freedom to choose,” and that being allowed to leave a union but still having to pay dues isn’t much of a choice.
“You want to join a union? Terrific. God bless you,” Rauner said Thursday in Troy, near St. Louis. “Here’s the issue. Today in Illinois, we are closed. If there’s a union, you have join it, in government or in business. You know what? Other states don’t enforce that. And companies that want to have the flexibility to have union or not to have their employees be able to sign, they don’t come to places that enforce it.”
Rules regarding union enrollment are more nuanced than the governor lets on. Federal labor law, which applies to private-sector unions, does not require membership in a union as a condition of employment. However, because unions are legally bound to negotiate on behalf of all employees covered in the bargaining unit they represent, workers who choose not to join are still required to pay dues, or what is known as an “agency fee.” The idea is that everyone who benefits from the collective bargaining, such as through higher wages and better retirement benefits negotiated by the union, should pay their fair share of associated costs.
There are similar rules for public employee unions in Illinois. Workers can choose to join a union, but those who do not are responsible for paying a “fair share” fee. Illinois law prohibits those fees from being used to support political candidates.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Statics says there 831,000 union members in Illinois as of last year, representing about 15 percent of the state’s workforce. An additional 49,000 workers were identified as having no union affiliation, but their jobs were covered by a union. It’s that population of workers who likely pay agency fees to offset collective bargaining costs but choose to reject union membership.
Rauner said, “the fair share is huge, it’s almost 100 percent or 80 percent. That’s not right.”
Those fees are at the center of the national right-to-work debate. In states that have put in place right-to-work laws, workers are no longer required to pay fees or dues to support collective bargaining efforts.
That sets up a system critics call a “free ride,” in which workers who don’t pay into the system benefit at the expense of those who do. If enough workers take the free ride, unions don’t have the financial resources to negotiate as fiercely, and their powers are weakened. Unions argue that leads to fewer rights for workers at the benefit of employers.
“You create a race to the bottom in terms of wages,” said Bill Looby, political director of the Illinois AFL-CIO. “It’s an ideology that the economy will do better if the top does better. But that’s a tired theory that hasn’t worked. If we are going to stimulate our prosperity it needs to come from the middle class.”
The impact on worker incomes and economic growth depends on the ideology of the think tank doing the study. A 2013 study by the University of Illinois declared job creation is likely somewhere in the middle, estimating right to work laws could range from a 1.2-percentage-point decrease in total employment to a 1.4-percentage-point increase in Illinois.
Two dozen states have passed right-to-work laws mostly in the South. In the Midwest, neighboring Indiana, Iowa and Michigan have such laws, and in Michigan restrictions extend to some public employee unions.
While Rauner has yet to fill in the details about his plan, the broad strokes of his proposal would allow voters in a county, municipality or other local unit of government to put a referendum on the ballot to decide “whether or not business employees should be forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.”
Attempting to put in place right-to-work laws at the local level instead of statewide also raises legal questions. Critics say it’s a violation of the Taft-Hartley Act, an update to federal employment law passed in 1947 that gave states the power to enact right-to-work laws in the first place. They point to a provision that says such restrictions can be put in place by “state or territorial law,” arguing those words forbid right-to-work measures at a county or municipal level.
“The federal law, if you read it, it’s really not ambiguous, it says territory or state, and it’s clear from the congressional record what people meant — a state like Illinois or Michigan, not a segment like Cook County,” said Bob Bruno, a labor and employment relations professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It’s not at all clear where this is consistent with federal law, if this idea would be legal.”
Bruno said the legal ambiguity is fueled in part because only Kentucky has enacted right-to-work laws at a local level, where a handful of counties have approved such measures in recent months after a statewide effort was blocked by Democrats in the legislature.
Those moves have sparked a court challenge from unions, as well as an opinion from Democratic Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who also is running for governor. Conway found that “local governments have no power to enact right-to-work ordinances, as they are pre-empted by (federal law).” But proponents fought back with their own analysis from two former Kentucky Supreme Court justices — one Democrat, one Republican — saying a county does have that power, a signal that the court battle is far from over.
A Rauner aide said the governor thinks he could avoid a similar legal fight in Illinois under legislation being drafted that would “explicitly allow local voters to create empowerment zones.”
“Because there would be enabling legislation, we believe there would not be a similar legal challenge as is being pursued in Kentucky,” spokesman Lance Trover said.
Speculation about legal challenges in Illinois may be premature, though, as even supporters of Rauner’s plan acknowledge it may not survive the inevitable political battles ahead. Still, they say it’s a needed start to discussions about how to improve the state’s business climate as companies move out of state in search of a cheaper workforce.
“There’s no doubt that my friends, the leaders in organized labor, will make this a defining issue in their interactions with members of the General Assembly,” said Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “But I would ask my friends in organized labor what’s going so well in the current circumstances that we should protect so strongly? There’s a higher wage base, but if we year after year lose these facilities, why shouldn’t we look at these opportunities? Why shouldn’t we have this as an arrow in our quiver when we are talking to a company that wants to relocate in Illinois?”
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who chairs the state Democratic Party, offered a veiled hint of the difficult prospects ahead for Rauner’s idea last week, saying his focus is on “helping working people.”
“I think what we ought to do is to understand that organized labor represents working people. For myself, I’m very interested in helping working people. And I’m sure that almost every member of the legislature shares that view,” Madigan told Illinois Public Media. “Organized labor doesn’t represent everybody, but they do advance significant ideas before the legislature as to how we can improve the economy, help people get jobs, keep jobs, pay taxes, make a mortgage payment, pay for the education of a child.”
Tribune reporters Kim Geiger and Ray Long contributed.
CHICAGO—Leading the fight against income inequality, SEIU Local 1 announced its endorsements for the 2015 City of Chicago Aldermanic Candidates. “Each of these candidates has demonstrated they understand the needs of working families,” said Tom Balanoff, SEIU Local 1 President. “I praise Alyx Pattison for understanding middle class economics as well as the need for restoring balance, reviving neighborhoods and building an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.”
“Chicago’s working people have a chance to vote for an economy that works for all of us in the upcoming February election,” said Rita Young, SEIU Local 1 Executive Board member. “That’s why SEIU is proud to endorse these progressive candidates so we can work with our elected officials to eliminate the economic and social inequality that is holding our city back.”
In addition to the SEIU Illinois State Council endorsements last week (see full list below),SEIU Local 1 is pleased to endorse the following candidates:
Representing more than 30,000 workers in Illinois, SEIU Local 1 rallies behind candidates who have demonstrated strong voting records on issues important to working families such as raising the minimum wage. SEIU Local 1 represents workers including security officers, janitors, and other service workers. SEIU members are winning better wages, health care, and more secure jobs, while ensuring that workers, not just corporations and CEOs, benefit from today’s economy.
The SEIU State Council endorsed the below aldermanic candidates last week: Ald. Joe Moreno (1); Ald. Pat Dowell (3); Ald. Leslie Hairston (5); Ald Roderick Sawyer (6); Patrick Thompson (11); Ald. Toni Foulkes (16); Ald. Willie Cochran (20); Ald. Howard Brookins (21); Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22); Ald. Michael Zalewski (23); Ald. Walter Burnett (27); Ald. Jason Ervin (28); Ald. Scott Waguespack (32); Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35); Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38); and Ald. John Arena (45).
On January 31st, hundreds of SEIU Local 1 member leaders from across the Midwest gathered in Chicago to make a plan to win better wages and benefits for their families, and to ultimately raise America with good jobs.
Contracts expire on April 5, 2015 for nearly 12,000 janitors in Chicago including Chicago Public School custodians and other city and county buildings along with janitors working in office buildings in downtown Chicago and across Chicagoland. Similar janitorial contracts are expiring for approximately 130,000 janitors around the country throughout 2015 and 2016; Chicago is the first city to negotiate.
Chicago’s janitors work hard to keep our offices, our schools and our city clean and healthy. They clean the equivalent of nearly 33,000 miles of office space every night, vacuuming our floors, emptying our trash, and sanitizing our bathrooms. They clean build ings of major corporations—such as JP Morgan Chase, McDonald’s, AT&T, Kraft, CME Group, United and Boeing—and public facilities like Chicago Public Schools and city, county and federal buildings.
CEOs of Chicago’s largest public corporations brought in more than $650 million in 2013. It would take a janitor in downtown Chicago more than 200 years to make what one CEO is paid in a single year. Those corporations raked in $678 billion in revenue, but as many as two thirds of all Illinois corporations are not paying any state corporate income taxes. These corporations are using their power to get millions in tax deals from the city and state.
We know that rich corporations can afford to support good jobs that boost our economy, lift our communities, and pave a better future for Chicago and the Midwest. That’s why we’re taking action to win better jobs for janitors and all workers. Raising pay will put money into the hands of working moms and dads so they can put more money back into our communities and help create more good jobs.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 16, 2015
Julia P. Valentine, email@example.com
CHICAGO – SEIU Local 1 janitors held a rally on Thursday, January 15, to celebrate the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and announce the start of the Chicago janitorial contract campaign. Chicago janitors are fighting to realize Dr. King’s dream of good jobs that lift communities out of poverty fifty years after his tragic death.
Contracts expire on April 5, 2015 for nearly 12,000 janitors in Chicago including Chicago Public School custodians and other city and county buildings along with janitors working in office buildings in downtown Chicago and across Chicagoland. Similar janitorial contracts are expiring for approximately 200,000 janitors around the country throughout 2015 and 2016; Chicago is the first city to negotiate.
SEIU Local 1 Secretary-Treasurer Laura Garza told the crowd, “Dr. King called the labor movement ‘the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.’ Today, on his birthday, we are still fighting: for fair wages and benefits and a way to provide for our families.” She continued, “While the recovery has been good to the very wealthy, it has not touched our wages and benefits. We want that to change with these contract negotiations. Our economy should lift all workers, not just those at the top.”
SEIU Local 1 members testified to their fellow members about the importance of raising Chicago – and America – with good jobs. “Workers today are struggling despite working hard every day. We believe that if you work hard, you should be able to support your family and have a good life,” said Urszula Przybys, a janitor who has been working for eighteen years at the NBC Tower in downtown Chicago. She was echoed by CPS custodians Lamont Christmas and Salud Gonzales.
GET THE FACTS ON CHICAGO JANITORS:
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Service Employees International Union Local 1 unites nearly 50,000 workers throughout the Midwest. SEIU janitors, security officers, food service workers, and others are working with community leaders to advocate for the quality services the public deserves and the good jobs our communities need.
Unions help working families fulfill their dreams in many ways. At SEIU Local 1, this includes yearly college scholarship opportunities. These scholarships enable SEIU Local 1 members and their children to pursue their education goals at colleges, universities, labor study programs and technical schools.
Make sure to research the following opportunities for SEIU Local 1 members and your children – the deadlines for applications are coming up!
Today, the grand jury’s decision deepens those wounds and amplifies even more the disproportionate and disparate injustices experienced by communities of color.
“For months, families across our nation have experienced collective grief and outrage over the taking of Michael Brown’s life and the resulting turmoil that has upended the community in Ferguson, Missouri. Today, the grand jury’s decision deepens those wounds and amplifies even more the disproportionate and disparate injustices experienced by communities of color. These injustices reverberate through all communities and take our nation another step away from a fair and just society.
Our disappointment in today’s decision does not extinguish the hope in our hearts for a better America for all our children regardless of where they were born or in which zip code they live.
Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. All lives matter. The dream of America can never be fully realized until justice and safety prevail in every community across our country. The Department of Justice must prioritize the investigation into the murder of Michael Brown.
SEIU members stand with our brothers and sisters in Ferguson and across the nation in expressing our grief and frustration. We join them in calling for something better for all neighborhoods and communities and joining together in peaceful demonstrations at federal courthouses across the country.
More information can be found here (http://nationalactionnetwork.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/HANDS-UP-JUSTICE-RALLY-FLIER-11-21.pdf). We encourage all involved law enforcement to honor the rules and the rights of people to protest and speak out.
We will not rest in these efforts until America is a more just society where every human being is respected and every community has equal opportunity to thrive.
For Immediate Release: November 24, 2014
Media Contact: Beau Boughamer; firstname.lastname@example.org; 202/765-9143
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 21, 2014
CHICAGO— Today, Friday, November 21, school custodians and their supporters from area school districts, including Rockford, Elgin and Wheaton, rallied to protest school board inaction at the annual conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago.
“Thanksgiving should be a happy time, not a time to worry about a smaller paycheck,” said Shana Spearman, a custodian in the Rockford Public Schools District 205. “Working full-time without a single paid sick day or holiday isn’t right. We are just asking to be treated fairly.”
Custodians like Ms. Spearman have addressed their school boards at recent public meetings as well as sent letters to request support for better pay and basic benefits like paid holidays and sick days. They have reminded the school boards that it is within the boards’ power to dictate wage and benefit standards to the cleaning contractors they hire. Yet none have taken any action to support the men and women who keep their schools clean and their students and staff safe from illness.
“There is still time for these school districts to do the right thing for the men and women who keep their schools sanitary, some of whom have been on the job for ten years or more,” said Lonnell Saffold, a director with SEIU Local 1. “At a time when infectious disease outbreaks in schools are rampant, supporting paid sick time is not only an issue of respect, it is a serious safety issue.”
School boards have the authority to set standards for wages and benefits in their contracts and dictate these terms to the contractors they hire. The national trend of outsourcing janitorial work in public schools should not result in a race to the bottom. Instead of inflicting poverty jobs on workers and their families, public school districts should be providing good jobs that build strong communities.
SEIU Local 1 unites nearly 50,000 workers across six Midwestern states who are building an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy.
www.seiu1.org | @SEIULocal1 | www.Facebook.com/SEIULocal1