Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Down Pension Reform Law

The following is a statement on behalf of the We Are One Illinois coalition of unions representing public employees and retirees in Illinois:

“We are thankful that the Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the will of the people, overturned this unfair and unconstitutional law, and protected the hard-earned life savings of teachers, police, fire fighters, nurses, caregivers and other public service workers and retirees.

“The Court’s ruling confirms that the Illinois Constitution ensures against the government’s unilateral diminishment or impairment of public pensions.

“Because most public employees aren’t eligible for Social Security, their modest pension—just $32,000 a year on average—is the primary source of retirement income for hundreds of thousands of Illinois families. While workers always paid their share, politicians caused the debt by failing to make adequate contributions to the pension funds.

“Public service workers are helpers and problem solvers by trade. With the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling, we urge lawmakers to join us in developing a fair and constitutional solution for pension funding, and we remain ready to work with anyone of good faith to do so.”

CLICK HERE to download the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision

Teamsters Joint Council 25 is among the coalition of unions included in We Are One Illinois.

“The court’s decision to overturn the state’s pension reform law provides a clear message: Attempts to diminish or impair public employee pension benefits are wrong in every sense of the word,” said Becky Strzechowski, Trustee of Teamsters Joint Council 25 and President of Teamsters Local 700. “Teamsters Local 700 members should gain a sense of justice from this decision. Where there is a threat on our members, on public employees’ earned benefits or on workers’ rights, this union stands ready to protect them.”

Teamsters Local 700 is an affiliate of Teamsters Joint Council 25, America’s premier labor union for Chicago, Illinois and northwest Indiana.

Illinois Teamsters Oppose Gov. Rauner on “Turnaround Agenda”

041315_JC25_RTWNumbersFlierSince proposing anti-labor initiatives and cuts to social services in his State of the State address, Gov. Bruce Rauner has toured Illinois to show his support for right-to-work.

In several speeches since February 25, the governor has called for the establishment of localized right-to-work legislation or “employee empowerment zones” to allow voters to decide what unions can negotiate in the workplace. In separate addresses in Pontiac and Mundelein on March 2, Gov. Rauner said, “I want local voters to control the nature of collective bargaining. I want [voters] to decide what the union can collectively bargain.”

“Bruce Rauner knows the Teamsters and other unions will stand up to him on any statewide right-to-work bill, so he’s unleashed a smokescreen to push for anti-union laws on a smaller scale,” said John T. Coli, President of Teamsters Joint Council 25. “His right-to-work proposals are not pro-business, they’re anti-union. These laws are designed to weaken unions. Without unions, Bruce Rauner can attract the kinds of corporations that want to pay workers less and deprive them of necessary rights and benefits at work.”

Together with the Illinois AFL-CIO, Teamsters Joint Council 25 and its affiliates are working to better inform union members and workers statewide of the harmful economic impacts of right-to-work laws.

Unions Sue Rauner Over Executive Order
The Illinois Teamsters also are involved in a lawsuit filed against Gov. Rauner on March 5 over an executive order he issued in February to block 40,000 state workers from paying fair share union dues. Twenty-seven Illinois unions joined forces in the suit to invalidate the order, which Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Comptroller Leslie Munger have already deemed illegal.

Fair share status applies to individuals employed in a union workplace who choose to opt out of the union. Fair share workers still benefit from the union’s collective bargaining and are therefore required to pay a reduced rate for their benefits. Fair share agreements are authorized under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and are included in state contracts with unions.

On February 13, the Attorney General’s office reached the same conclusion, stating, “Fair share dues are constitutional, and the comptroller needs to follow the law” in continuing to process the collection of fair share dues in opposition to Gov. Rauner’s executive order.

“Bruce Rauner is not above the law. He cannot disrupt collective bargaining agreements or unilaterally change labor law in Illinois in an effort to attract likeminded billionaire CEOs to this state,” Coli said. “Right-to-work laws and other anti-union measures like the fair share executive order are proven job killers. They weaken labor unions, erode wages and shift any economic gains made in Illinois away from hardworking men and women and into the hands of already profitable corporations. Right-to-work, however Bruce Rauner chooses to define it, is the last thing we need in Illinois.”

A Right-to-Work Primer: So What Is RTW and How Could It Affect Illinois?

041015_JC25_RTWFactsFlierThe Wisconsin state legislature on March 6 passed a right-to-work bill that Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican openly opposed to collective bargaining, has said he’ll sign. The new measure makes Wisconsin the 25th U.S. state with right-to-work legislation. So what, exactly, is right-to-work and how does it affect unions?

What is “right-to-work” or RTW?

The term “right-to-work” is a misnomer that has nothing to do with a person’s right to find or accept employment. Such legislation doesn’t give anyone an actual right-to-work. Instead it makes it harder for workers to have a union in their workplace.

RTW legislation prohibits labor unions from negotiating union security clauses with an employer. These clauses ensure that anyone who works in a union-represented workplace contributes to the cost of the union’s activities, including the negotiation and enforcement of a contract. RTW laws deny this security to unions and set up a statewide welfare system where people don’t have to pay for the union benefits they receive.

When workers who receive union benefits stop making contributions that support the union, the union itself can collapse and ultimately disappear. Without the security of a union contract, workers lose any guarantees of wage increases, health care benefits or retirement security.

Why do certain lawmakers propose and pass RTW bills?

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are two recent examples of top legislators who support RTW laws. Both governors claim RTW gives workers more personal freedoms in the workplace, while the laws make states more attractive to big business.

RTW proponents, including Gov. Rauner, often say RTW allows employees to choose not to join a union. But this is a misconception. Under federal law, it is already illegal to force anyone to join a union as a condition of employment. RTW doesn’t change or enhance that.

The primary reason big businesses and corporations might want to open shop in RTW states is because RTW laws weaken unions and the labor movement. When fewer unions exist and fewer workers support unionization, employers do not have to collectively bargain with their workers. Corporations can get away with paying workers less and refusing to give workers necessary benefits, like health care, pensions, vacation time and paid holidays.

Unions help to raise the standard of living for all workers. When unions are weakened and their ranks reduced, all workers suffer. Unions are in workplaces because a majority of those workers have chosen union representation. Whether or not they support the union, all workers in a unionized workplace benefit from the gains the union makes and the rights the union establishes. RTW laws shift the balance of power away from workers and into the hands of employers.

Do RTW laws actually attract more business and spur economic growth?

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in states with RTW laws make $5,971 less per year than workers in other states.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty rates are higher in states with RTW laws. The average poverty rate in RTW states is 14.8 percent overall and 20.2 for children. In states without RTW, the average poverty rate is 13.1 percent overall and 18.3 for children.
  • Of the 12 states paying workers the lowest wages, including Iowa and Indiana, eight of those states have RTW laws.
  • Seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates have RTW.
  • All 12 states that pay workers the highest wages, including Illinois, do not have RTW laws.

So what do these numbers tell us? Big businesses that move to states with RTW laws are all but guaranteed to pay workers less and discourage employees from forming, joining or supporting unions.

What is fair share?

As was previously clarified, laws already exist nationwide that allow workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. In some workplaces that are already unionized, if a worker chooses to take a job but does not want to join the union, he or she can be obligated to pay a “fair share” fee.

Fair share is less than the amount of full union dues and does not support all of the activities of the union. Instead, the fee pays for the worker’s fair share of benefits he or she will still receive from the union. Even though the worker has chosen not to belong to the union, the fact that he or she works in a union environment means the worker will receive the stronger wages and benefits the union has achieved.

Fair share fees ensure equality in a unionized workplace. If a union election is held among 100 workers at a company and 60 percent vote for the union and 40 percent vote against the union, the union is still required to represent, support and protect all workers. Fair share ensures those who don’t want to be in the union still pay at least a small fee for the rights and benefits they’ll receive.

What could happen if Illinois passes RTW laws?

In January, credit rating agency Moody’s released an economic report for the State of Illinois. In the report, Moody’s stated, “It is debatable whether or not right-to-work laws enhance economic growth, even in circumstances where they do help attract businesses to the state. Laws that hurt unions shift the balance from employees to owners. They tend to erode wages and lead to a more uneven distribution of the gains of economic growth.”

In a policy brief from the University of Illinois, researchers concluded the following consequences are likely if Illinois passes RTW legislation:

  • Employment would increase by 0.4-0.55 percent, but continued increases would disappear after a few years.
  • Hourly wages for African-American workers would drop by 2-9 percent.
  • Hourly wages for Hispanic workers would drop by as much as 8 percent.
  • Hourly wages for women would drop by 2-7 perecent.
  • Approximately 107 additional Illinois workers would die in workplace accidents in the construction sector over 10 years. The rate of workplace deaths is 54.4 percent higher in states with RTW laws, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed “right-to-work zones,” so what are those?

Conservative policy groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council have pushed for RTW zones across the country. In states like Illinois that have predominately Democratic legislatures, Republican lawmakers have a harder time passing statewide RTW bills. Creating RTW zones would allow Gov. Rauner to bypass state legislation and enact localized RTW laws in specific cities, counties and municipalities.

In February, Rauner said, “I want local voters to control the nature of collective bargaining. I want [voters] to decide what the union can collectively bargain.” Establishing these zones would have the same effect as statewide RTW laws, but on a smaller scale, weakening union members and all workers in communities that may have a higher percentage of unionization.

Ultimately, the passage of any law that gives individuals who are not employed at a specific workplace the power to determine collective bargaining rights for the workers inside that workplace would be unconstitutional. Unions in Illinois, including the Teamsters, would not hesitate to challenge such deceptive practices.