By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – The Labor Renaissance of 2019 continues at the Illinois State Capital with the new Labor-supporting governor joining with strong Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to enact legislation long sought by unions.
One of the highest profile bills, the Collective Bargaining Freedom Act, was signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker April 12 to prevent local governmental units from enacting so-called “right-to-work” zones, an effort Rauner had proposed because he could not win support for statewide “right-to-work” law. The bill passed with bipartisan support, including all southern Illinois Democrats and several of the region’s Republicans.
Pritzker’s “Fair Tax” proposal to bring Illinois into the modern world by creating a progressive income tax, shift some of the tax burden from workers to the wealthy to help the state deal with longstanding financial problems, has the full backing of Labor, and is advancing despite opposition from wealthier taxpayers, who see their privileged position being at least slightly diminished.
The bill, SJRCA 1, passed the Senate Executive Committee on a 12-5 vote with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The bill would advance a constitutional amendment, so state residents would still have a chance to vote on it.
The Illinois AFL-CIO has endorsed the plan.
“The state federation has long sought a change from the unfair current flat tax structure that burdens the middle- and lower-income levels more than the wealthy,” Federation President Michael Carrigan said. “The middle class pays 13 percent of income on state and local taxes, while the wealthy pay only seven percent. This proposal will finally correct some long-standing inequities in our tax system. It will relieve the pressure on the middle class and force the wealthy to pay their fair share.”
Supporters are planning a Fair Tax Day of Action at noon, Tuesday, April 30, at the Lincoln statue on the east side of the Capital.
Other bills under consideration:
- Prevailing Wage for Drivers – Senate Bill 1783, proposed by the Teamsters, would apply prevailing wage laws to transportation of ready-mix concrete and aggregate materials on public works jobs. The bill remained before the Senate last week. An equivalent House bill, HB 3316, was before the House Rules Committee.
- Wage Theft – Employers who are found to have denied workers legally entitled wages and benefits on state projects would face criminal penalties and be barred from further public jobs for five years under House Bill 165. The bill passed the House on party-line vote April 4 and was awaiting a vote in the Senate.
- Wage History – House Bill 8343, co-sponsored by Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville), would prohibit employers from screening applicants for wage history, requiring prior wages meet minimums or maximums or requiring disclosure of previous wages. The bill on April 3 and was awaiting action in the Senate.
- Responsible Contractors – House Bill 2838 – the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act – would hold contractors liable if workers go unpaid by sub-contractors. It passed the House on a party line vote April 3. Among co-sponsors were Stuart and LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis).
- Prompt Payment – The Contractor Prompt Payment Act, Senate Bill 1636, would limit retainers withheld from construction contracts to no more than 10 percent before half-completion and no more than five percent after that. It passed the Senate March 27and is now before the House.
- ‘Underground Economy’ – House Bill 358, sponsored by Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), would give the attorney general authority to create a Workers Protection Unit and Worker Protection Task Force, to combat the “underground economy” that exploits workers with unsafe conditions and low pay while undercutting legitimate employers. It remained on hold in the House Rules Committee last week. A Senate version, SB 161, passed on a bipartisan vote April 11.
TEACHERS AND EDUCATION
- Teacher Salaries – The Senate passed SB10, Senator Andy Manar’s (D-Bunker Hill) plan to raise the minimum wage for public school teachers to $40,000 by increments through 2023, on April 11. The current minimum is $10,000 for a bachelor’s degree and $11,000 for a master’s. The bill is now before the House, where an equivalent bill, HB 2078, sponsored by Stuart, already passed.
- Teacher Shortage – Senator Manar has sponsored a bill to deal with the state’s teacher shortage by ending a much-derided Rauner-era policy limiting the amount of raises teachers can get in their final four years of work to no more than three percent. Manar’s bill would set the new limit six percent, allow student teachers to be paid, and end the requirement that teachers pass a so-called basic skills test. The bill passed the Senate April 10 and now is in the House.
- Elected School Board – Illinois’ largest school district – Chicago – does not have an elected board. House Bill 2267, proposed by the Teachers and the Service Employees (SEIU), would require an elected board by 2023. It passed the House 110-2 on April 4 and now is in the Senate.
- Right to Strike – In Chicago, teachers may strike over wages but lack the right to strike over key issues such as class size, outsourcing, layoffs and hours. House Bill 2275, also proposed by the Teachers and SEIU, would change that. It passed the House on March 28 and now is in the Senate.
- Charter Schools – Senate Bill 1226 would abolish the State Charter School Commission and transfer its power to the State Board of Education and local school districts. Teachers unions are widely opposed to the charter school movement because its negative impact on funding for public schools. Under SB1226, existing charter schools would have to re-apply for authorization. The bill was introduced by Chicago-area Senate Democrats and is awaiting action in the House.
- Employee Status – Graduate research assistants would be recognized as employees, as teaching assistants already are, under House Bill 253, which passed the House March 28. It is now before the Senate.
- Workplace Rights Curriculum – Senate Bill 1694 would allow school districts to include a unit on workplace rights, including sections on legal protections against sexual harassment and racial discrimination, in high school curriculums. It passed the Senate April 12 and is now before the House.
- Firefighters’ Labor History – House Bill 2215 would require teaching the history of the fire service Labor Movement in the training curriculum for firefighters. Unions would provide curriculum and instructors. The bill is currently in the House.
WORKERS’ SAFETY AND COMPENSATION
- Extending Eligibility – Senate Bill 1596 would prevent statute-of-limitations rules from blocking compensation to workers who develop asbestos exposure diseases years after they were exposed. It passed the House on April 14, with Hoffman and Stuart among co-sponsors, and the Senate on March 6, and is now before the governor.
- Hazardous Workplace Penalties – House Bill 269, filed by Hoffman, gives additional powers to the Workers Compensation Act in cases of extra-hazardous workplaces by raising penalties for non-compliance. It passed the House 104-10 on April 11 and is now in the Senate.
- Hazardous Materials Training – Senate Bill 1407, the Illinois Hazardous Materials Workforce Training Act, would require the Department of Labor to develop advanced safety training for workers at high-hazard facilities, and require contractors and subcontractors to use skilled and trained workforces when trades apprenticeships are available, and establish the Illinois Hazardous Materials Workforce Training Fund. The bill remained before the Senate.
- Rail Crew Safety – Senate Bill 24, the railroad workers’ safety bill, would require at least two crew members on carriers passing through Illinois. The bill passed the Senate on April 11 and is now before the House.
- Job Site Protections – House Bill 1633, sponsored by Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), and backed by the AFL-CIO and the Illinois Manufacturing Association, would create criminal penalties for trespassing and damaging important job sites including water and wastewater plants, dams, military bases, nuclear reactors, pipelines, factories, refineries and railroads, among others. Importantly, the bill also includes protections for individuals to protest or demonstrate and for unions to picket and organize. The bill passed the House on a bipartisan vote April 11 and it is now in the Senate.
- Safe Patient Limits – House Bill 2604, the Safe Patients Limits Act, would place reasonable limits on the caseloads of Registered Nurses working in hospitals and nursing homes It has passed the House Labor Committee and is awaiting action by the full House.
- Workers Compensation for First Responders – Firefighters, EMTs and paramedics who contract the Staphylococcus Aureas infection on the job, would qualify for workers’ compensation coverage under House Bill 2480. The bill passed the House Labor Committee and is awaiting action.
- Union Representative – House Bill 854, sponsored by Hoffman, would require at least one representative of the apprenticeship program for installation and repair of fire extinguishing systems be appointed to the Illinois Fire Advisory Commission. It passed the House unanimously on April 12 and now is before the Senate.