Illinois unions celebrate wins, note concerns in recently ended legislative session

Illinois Correspondent

Illinois unions are celebrating wins in the spring legislative session that concluded this week, as well as concerns.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) applauded increases of $75 million for early childhood education, $350 million in direct school funding, and more investment in teacher recruitment and retention.

“The additional $10 million for the Monetary Assistance Program (MAP), bringing full investment in the program to $711 million, is a commendable step,” IFT President Dan Montgomery said. “This increased funding will enhance the financial stability of our public colleges and universities, making higher education more affordable for students, particularly Black, brown and low-income students who benefit the most.”

The state’s MAP grants provide funding based on a family’s income to assist with tuition and fees, similar to and sometimes exceeding the federal Pell grant.

However, the statement from Montgomery also noted that the “meager increase” in funding for higher education fell short.

“A two-percent increase to our state universities is not good enough, however,” he said. “Funding for our state universities has been decimated over the past two decades and it shows.”

The need for more teachers in a time of teacher shortages was a high priority, according to Montgomery, highlighting the Grow Your Own program and teacher vacancy grants as well as keeping up the state’s pension payments.

“These crucial revenue discussions are essential to ensuring Illinois remains a strong economic state and continues to thrive for all its residents while supporting and funding our education and public service priorities,” Montgomery said.

However, he pointed out the ongoing discussion surrounding the Tier 2 pension issue, which Montgomery and other union leaders maintain is a violation of federal law in that it could potentially leave teachers with a lower pension than guaranteed by the federal Social Security in which they cannot participate.

Al Llorens, president of the Illinois Education Association, criticized the elimination of two programs for supporting educators: Educators Rising and the Illinois Virtual Instructional Coach and Mentoring Program. Educators Rising focused on introducing high schoolers to the education profession, and the virtual coach program paired new educators with a trained virtual coach for support and feedback.

“At a time when Illinois is experiencing a statewide teacher shortage, it is incomprehensible that funding for vital educator support programs are absent from the current budget proposal,” Llorens said.

Illinois also passed a measure that would stop employers from holding mandatory “captive audience”meetings with anti-union messages for employees, as well as other political and religious messages. Employers can still hold the meetings, but they cannot retaliate against workers who decline to attend.

Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, lauded the “captive worker meeting” bill as well as other priorities in the future, according to WCIA television.

“People go to work to work, they don’t go to work to be indoctrinated,” Drea said.

He also said the Illinois AFL-CIO supports two proposals to strengthen and remodel child labor laws, and has a vested interest in major construction projects such as the proposed Bears stadium in Chicago.

“Labor likes to build,” Drea said. “We want to have people working who have protections in the workplace… We will make sure the unions have a strong voice in the construction of the facilities and staffing those facilities.”

Illinois’ $53.1 billion budget passed the state Senate May 26 and the House of Representatives May 29. Gov. JB Pritzker said Illinois is “in its strongest fiscal position in decades.” No Republican from either chamber voted in favor of the budget, according to WCIA.


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