SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The speaker of the Illinois House on Wednesday won approval for allowing legislative staff to organize for collective bargaining, overcoming Republican objections about whether it’s necessary.
Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s legislation, endorsed 74-35 on a largely partisan vote, would allow legislative coordinators, subject-matter specialists, mailroom employees, custodians, doorkeepers providing security and others to unionize.
After Oregon allowed legislative aides to unionize in 2021, the movement has gained momentum. California endorsed collective bargaining last month but efforts in other states, such as Washington, have so far stalled. Maine allowed some staff unionization in the early 2000s.
Welch urged lawmakers to discard “finite” thinking when they’re engaged in “an infinite game,” responsible for improving the machinations of government for the future.
“Everyone in this room is going to be replaced or move on. It’s going to be someone else here, but the business of government is going to go on,” Welch said. “To ask yourself, ‘What’s best for me?’ is finite thinking. Infinite thinking is, ‘What’s best for us?’”
Welch, a staunchly pro-labor Democrat from Hillside, introduced the legislation after discussion among employees bubbled up. Advocates say legislative approval is necessary because state labor law exempts “public employees” from collective bargaining.
Republicans questioned Welch closely about the rationale for the change, contending the status quo is agreeable to GOP staff and questioning whether the Senate’s two partisan caucuses have an appetite for it. Welch’s legislation has not yet moved to the Senate so it has no sponsor in that chamber.
“Our staff has an issue with pay, our staff has an issue with benefits, our staff has an issue with flex scheduling, we sit down with our staff and we figure it out,” said House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, a Republican from Savanna. “That’s what good leaders do.”
Legislative staff members assigned to substantive or partisan jobs work long hours, particularly through the grueling final days of the annual spring session, for pay that generally starts in the $40,000 range. They research and write dense, complicated bills, ensuring legislators are prepared to present and defend them while tracking their progress and keeping appraised of opposition.
They also gain valuable experience that bodes well for challenging and more lucrative future careers in the Statehouse. So turnover is expected, but members of the Illinois Legislative Staff Association said this week that an unacceptably high rate of departures is one problem they are facing.
The proposal would exempt managers or confidential aides involved in policymaking. The part of the plan creating the legislative labor relations office which would oversee the process would take effect in July 2025.