By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – What a difference a state line can make.
In Missouri, the Republican-ruled Legislature can’t move fast enough in its assault on workers’ rights including so-called “right-to-work” legislation.
But in Illinois, where Democrats still hold strong majorities in the House and Senate, such bills can’t get any traction and instead are bottled up in the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
Representative Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) is chairman of that committee again this session, appointed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Hoffman has no intention of bringing those bills to a House vote.
“All they are is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he told the Labor Tribune. “I’m not a believer in stripping workers’ rights away.”
The Illinois AFL-CIO cited Hoffman’s role in blocking two of the anti-union bills – HB 672, which would bring “right-to-work” to Illinois by removing requirements that non-union employees must pay a proportionate share of the costs of contract representation, and HB 673, which also contains “right-to-work” language and would establish independent bargaining for workers.
The bills were introduced by Representative Allen Skillicorn, a Republican from Chicago suburb Crystal Lake, and the marketing director for an electronics manufacturing firm. Hoffman sent them and other bills to the Workforce Reconciliation Subcommittee, which he also chairs and where he holds a 10-6 Democratic edge.
“I don’t plan on calling that subcommittee,” Hoffman said. “Those bills don’t deserve a vote.”
The committee voted down another anti-union bill written by the right-wing Illinois Policy Institute, which the AFL-CIO calls a “fake news and fake policy group.” That bill, HB 660, would prohibit labor unions from obtaining their members’ Social Security numbers.
Hoffman’s good work is well recognized by Metro East labor leaders.
“He’s holding the line for us,” said B. Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor. “Every time they run anti-union legislation in, it is killed immediately.”
It’s not that the committee is only blocking bad bills. It passed a pro-worker measure, HB 813, on a 16-11 vote. That would broaden the number of employers covered by a law requiring notice of a layoff and also increases the amount of time workers would get to prepare.
The bill makes the requirement apply to employers with 65 or more workers instead of the current 75, and it would require 90 days of notice instead of the current 60.
Another bill passed by the committee, HB 2351 allows a lien to be placed on an employer’s property for the amount of unpaid wages owed to an employee.
BAD BILLS ON HOLD
Charles “Totsie” Bailey, president of the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, said Hoffman, Madigan and Hoffman’s Senate counterpart, Daniel Biss of Skokie, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, are true friends of workers and the Labor Movement.
“They’re on the front lines, and they’re protecting us,” he said. “If we didn’t have them, we’d all be in trouble.”
Hoffman has also blocked the following anti-worker bills, all introduced by Republicans. They give a detailed picture of what Illinois government’s attitude toward unions would be like if Republicans were ever to take over the Legislature:
- HB2444 – This would make it easier for school districts to replace full-time workers with contract workers by reducing the required amount of notice from 90 days to 30 days. It is sponsored by Steven Andersson (R-Geneva).
- HB3219 – This would require an election every two years to certify the bargaining unit for each public employee group, including schools, and add new rules such as a ban on contracts of more than five years. It is sponsored by Thomas Bennett (R-Pontiac).
- HB3319 – This is the so-called “Right to Earn a Living Act” that seeks to curtail entry requirements for public or private jobs to “those demonstrably necessary and carefully tailored to fulfill legitimate safety or welfare objectives,” or in other words, not bargaining unit membership. It would require reviews of such rules by all state agencies and set up a petition mechanism to challenge them. It is sponsored by Allen Skillicorn (R-Crystal Lake).
- HB3397 – Public workers’ contracts could not specify situations in which workers could be late for work without a pay deduction. It is sponsored by Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford).
- HB3403 – School employees would need a three-quarters vote to go on strike, making strike authorization more difficult. It is also sponsored by Sosnowski.
- HB3821 – This would remove, as a bargaining topic, any programs to reintegrate ex-offenders into the public workforce after house arrest, rehab or work-release. Such issues would be considered “matters of inherent managerial policy.” It is sponsored by Keith Wheeler (R-North Aurora).
HOFFMAN NAMED ASSISTANT MAJORITY LEADER
In recognition of his years standing up for working families and fighting for Organized Labor, Hoffman has been named Assistant Majority Leader of the House Democratic Caucus.
“I am humbled that my colleagues have put their trust in me to continue our fight for working families across the state,” Hoffman said. “I will do everything I can to make sure that middle-class families are getting a fair shake in Springfield and that we are creating jobs and opportunity for our area.”
With a new position in leadership, Hoffman is planning to continue his fight for economic reforms that will strengthen the middle-class and provide adequate funding for education.
“As chairman of the House Labor Committee, I will remain in steadfast opposition to Governor Rauner’s ‘right-to-work’ agenda that does nothing more than drive down wages and benefits for working families, so corporations can earn higher profits,” Hoffman said. “It has been an honor to fight for the residents of the 113th District, and I will continue to do everything I can to protect the hard-working families that live in the Metro East and across Illinois.”