Members of House speaker’s staff sue over ongoing unionization conflict

Members of House speaker’s staff sue over ongoing unionization conflict

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – Members of a would-be union representing staffers in House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s office filed suit against their boss on Friday, asking a Cook County judge to force recognition of the union.

The Illinois Legislative Staff Association, which formed in the fall of 2022, claims Welch’s refusal to engage in collective bargaining since then is a violation of the Workers’ Rights Amendment, which Illinois voters approved in the November 2022 election.

“As a result,” the ILSA claimed in its lawsuit, Welch “has created a climate of fear or anxiety within the staff” who allegedly feel vulnerable “to discharge or removal” from their jobs because the speaker has not recognized the ILSA.

Welch, for his part, rebuffed the characterization that he has stonewalled the unionization efforts, contending that state law doesn’t allow legislative staff to unionize. In September, after the association spent the summer criticizing the speaker, Welch announced a bill that would explicitly allow unionization of legislative staff.

The following month, he sat side by side with would-be union members to testify in favor of House Bill 4148 during the General Assembly’s fall veto session, celebrating the bill’s passage in the full House.

Read more: House approves framework allowing legislative staff to unionize

But in a scathing open letter ILSA published last week in the days leading up to the General Assembly’s scheduled adjournment date, the association accused Welch of passing the bill “to deflect rising criticism.” They also accused him of feigning solidarity in public while privately colluding with Democratic Senate President Don Harmon to ensure the bill “went no further” once it passed the House.

Read more: Would-be union of legislative staffers accuse Welch of undermining organizing effort

In its lawsuit Friday, however, the association derided the bill itself, complaining it contained a “poison pill” in that it would force ILSA members to collectively bargain with Republican staff in the House. The association pointed out that GOP staffers are hired by a different employer and accused Welch of inserting that language “so as to make it potentially impossible for the Speaker to claim authority to conduct bargaining.”

The association’s lawsuit rests on the 2022 Workers’ Rights Amendment, which established a “fundamental right” for Illinois workers to organize and collectively bargain.” It also prohibits the state from enacting “any law that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively.” 

Read more: Voters will decide on ‘right to unionize’ constitutional amendment | Illinois House Speaker’s staff could test limits of Workers’ Rights Amendment

Welch spokesperson Jaclyn Driscoll said the speaker’s office has not yet been served with a lawsuit but “will thoroughly review” the complaint once it receives it.

She also referred to her response last week to ILSA’s open letter, in which she said Welch was “proud” to pass the measure last fall and “remains hopeful the bill will be signed into law.”

The speaker’s office also pointed to nine specific areas of improvement for staffers within the speaker’s purview since Welch took power in 2021, including near-14 percent pay raises this year following raises last year that averaged to 8 percent.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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