Hundreds of state workers who lost union representation during the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner could get it back under a bill approved by the Illinois Senate this week and now pending in the House.
Decisions on whether public-sector workers should be classified as supervisory and thus not eligible for union protections should be based "on actual employee job duties and not solely on written job descriptions," according to Senate Bill 525.
Sponsored by state Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, the bill passed by a vote of 44 to 11 on Thursday, with all the "no" votes coming from Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods, Norine Hammond of Macomb, Jill Tracy of Quincy and Jason Barickman of Bloomington.
Voting in favor of the bill included Democratic Sen. Doris Turner of Springfield and six Republican senators, including Steve McClure of Springfield, Sally Turner of Beason and Neil Anderson of Moline.
If passed by the House and signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, the bill would allow organizations to petition the Illinois Labor Relations Board to make "hundreds" of state employees eligible again for union representation.
Those workers were stripped of their union status by the board several years ago because of board appointments made by Rauner, a Republican, according to Anders Lindall, spokesman for Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Lindall said the board under Rauner took an "overly narrow reading" of state law by only considering employees' job titles or job descriptions in determining union eligibility.
The board overturned decades of labor board precedent in excluding these workers from union representation, he said.
"This board makes clear that the Rauner board was wrong, and the law provides that determinations must be based on actual job duties," Lindall said.
AFSCME represents more than 35,000 state employees and is the largest union representing state employees. AFSCME supports the bill, as does the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Illinois AFL-CIO.
The Illinois Department of Central Management Services, an agency controlled by Pritzker, is listed as opposed to the bill on the General Assembly's website, but CMS spokeswoman Marjani Williams said CMS has taken a neutral stance on the legislation and didn't elaborate.
In debate on the Senate floor, Barickman said CMS officials have told senators the state government workforce is 93% unionized, and the current high rate of unionization sometimes creates challenges in managing workers.
Barickman said he was concerned management problems may become worse under the bill.
Aquino defended the bill, saying it would help restore the labor-management balance to the time before Rauner was governor. Rauner served from 2015 to 2019 and was defeated in his re-election bid by Pritzker.
Rauner previously said "illegal unionization of managers in state government" was costing taxpayers extra money and disrupting state agency operations. He said the average unionization rate in most states is 34%.
"Our departments are hamstrung by having managers in the union of the staff they are overseeing and managing and supervising," Rauner said at a Chicago news conference in December 2018. "It creates conflicts of interest when it comes to discipline, it creates conflicts of interest when it comes to work scheduling, it creates conflicts of interest when it comes to labor negotiations."
AFSCME leaders responded at the time that Rauner failed to work with the union and follow contract language designed to address operational issues.
Rauner's clashes with AFSCME gained national attention, and an Illinois-based court case challenging AFSCME's authority affected public-sector unions nationwide in 2018.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Janus vs. AFSCME, decided in a 5-4 vote to strike down mandatory "fair-share" dues for non-union members who benefited from union-negotiated contracts. Rauner backed the ruling.
Lindall said AFSCME strongly supports SB 525 and was happy to see a "big majority" in the Senate support it.
"It clarifies the bargaining rights of hundreds of state employees who were union members for decades in many cases and were wrongly or unfairly excluded or stripped of their bargaining rights," Lindall said. "It's a pro-worker bill. It's a good bill. It's common-sense. A 'no' vote on this bill is an anti-worker, anti-union vote."