Ill. Unions Say Right-To-Work Ban Should Be On Next Ballot

By Celeste Bott
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Law360 (May 8, 2020, 9:00 PM EDT) -- The AFL-CIO and an influential Illinois union on Friday asked an Illinois federal court to lift a requirement that proposed constitutional amendments be passed by the state legislature at least six months before the next general election, so voters can weigh in on a proposal to ban right-to-work laws. 

The AFL-CIO, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and pro-union group Fight Back Fund say coronavirus-related restrictions have made it impossible to get the Illinois General Assembly to vote on a pro-union measure known as the "Collective Bargaining Freedom Amendment" in time to get it on the November ballots. They argue that the present circumstances dictate lifting the six-month requirement, saying their First and Fourteenth amendment rights to petition for the bargaining freedom amendment are being hampered.

The bargaining freedom rule they support would bar any law from being passed that "restricts or interferes with the ability of workers to join together and collectively bargain over wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment." It would prohibit any right-to-work laws barring union security agreements that require the payment of union dues as a condition of employment. 

Ken Snyder, a spokesman for the effort to pass the proposed constitutional amendment, told Law360 in a statement that the coronavirus crisis means the legislature hasn't been able to meet, stalling the initiative from moving forward. The lawsuit is an effort to get the initiative on the ballot to help working families, he said.

"COVID-19 has put on real display the perils faced everyday by Illinois workers, especially by our emergency responders and those working on the frontlines to keep us safe. Our goal is to make collective bargaining a constitutional right in our state, a right that ensures that all workers here can negotiate for safety equipment, fair pay and sick leave," Snyder said.

A spokesman for the Illinois Secretary of State said the lawsuit is being reviewed. 

The proposed amendment, introduced in the Illinois House in January, follows the passage of the Collective Bargaining Freedom Act last year, which banned local governments from limiting union security agreements.

The unions say that though there was support for the amendment in the General Assembly, because of the coronavirus-related cancellation of the legislature's April session, supporters were denied the opportunity to petition lawmakers to pass the measure for placement on the November 2020 ballot.

The six-month requirement violates their free speech rights and their rights under Article III of the Illinois Constitution, which states all elections shall be free and equal, by "unreasonably restricting plaintiffs' right to associate for political purposes, plaintiffs' access to being on the ballot, and the right of plaintiffs as voters to have the opportunity to vote on the proposed constitutional amendment," according to the lawsuit. 

The union groups are represented by Dale D. Pierson and Robert A. Paszta of the Local 150 Legal Department and Kara M. Principe and Joseph P. Sweeney of the Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting.

Counsel information for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and the Illinois State Board of Elections could not be immediately determined.

The case is Fight Back Fund et al v. Illinois State Board of Elections et al, case number 1:20-cv-02791, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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