IL legislative staff union hopeful accuses Welch of sabotage

The employees allege that the House speaker passed a bill allowing unionization knowing it would die in the Senate.

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois – Seven months after Democratic Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch pushed a measure that would allow legislative staff to unionize, members of his own staff on Tuesday criticized the president for allowing the bill languished.

The legislation has not seen any action since its passage in the House in October, and the union hopeful said his attempts to get a meeting with Senate officials have been met with silence.

Read more: Chamber approves framework that allows legislative staff to unionize

In a scathing statement, the Illinois Legislative Staff Association accused Welch of passing the bill “to deflect growing criticism” and feigning solidarity in public while privately colluding with Democratic Senate President Don Harmon to ensure that The bill “will not advance further” once approved by the House. .

“Chairman Welch took advantage of our sincere desire to work with him and used it to score political points while continuing to undermine our organizing efforts,” the lengthy statement said. “This entire exercise was nothing more than an empty ruse, meant to enlighten us as we drafted their bills, staffed their committees, crafted their talking points, and analyzed their budget.”

ILSA, which is currently made up of staff from the House Democratic caucus, was formed secretly in 2022 and made its unionization efforts public last year. The association then spent the summer accusing Welch of hindering its efforts to gain recognition.

But in September, the president announced House Bill 4148, which would explicitly allow legislative staff to unionize, something labor experts warn may not be possible under existing law in Illinois. The following month, Welch sat alongside potential union members to testify on the bill during the General Assembly’s fall veto session, celebrating the bill’s passage in the full House.

Read more: Welch introduces bill to allow legislative staff to unionize | Illinois House Speaker’s Staff Could Test Limits of Workers’ Rights Amendment

Since then, however, relations have deteriorated again, according to ILSA. The association said it had chosen to “tolerate (Welch’s) political theatrics” in the fall as long as “there appeared to be good faith dialogue between us and management.”

“But now, the president and his team have decided to disregard our good will and abuse our trust,” the association said in its statement, which also included an unflattering comparison to former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who He spent 36 years in power.

Welch’s office responded Tuesday by saying the speaker’s “record is clear” on the staff unionization effort.

“I was proud to stand with staff to bring about a change to the current statute,” Welch spokeswoman Jaclyn Driscoll said in a text. “He is hopeful that the bill will become law.”

A spokesperson for the Senate president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The president’s office also noted nine specific areas of improvement for staff within the president’s purview since Welch took office in 2021, including pay increases of nearly 14 percent this year, following increases last year that averaged 8 percent. percent.

Legislative assistants have received a 43 percent pay increase since 2020, according to the office, while research analysts and communications specialists have received 23 percent pay increases. The base salary of new employees also increased “significantly” this year, the office said.

Improvements also included “flex schedules” that allow staff to set their own schedules when the General Assembly is not in session, plus most staff receive benefits on their first day of employment. For years, Speaker’s Office employees needed to work for a contractual period before being eligible to receive benefits. For the limited number of employees who still have a contract period, the president’s office reimburses employees for health insurance purchased before they are eligible for the state insurance plan.

The office also noted the restructuring undertaken to separate the Welch era from the way his predecessor ran the president’s office. Under Madigan, many House Democratic staffers were more or less required to take leaves of absence from state jobs and go to work on political campaigns.

“In 2018, job descriptions did not exist,” the office said, referring to the year Madigan’s former chief of staff, Tim Mapes, was forced to resign after being accused of sexual harassment and intimidation by a former employee.

Mapes, who was convicted of federal perjury and attempted obstruction of justice last summer, was alleged to have created a culture of fear in a 2019 report ordered by Madigan to examine his former deputy’s management of personnel.

Read more: Report: Bullying abounds in House Speaker’s office

“We have also placed a real emphasis on mental and emotional health in this office,” Welch’s office said Tuesday, noting that the office offers free seminars for staff during the workday “focusing on mental health and overall well-being “.

The association’s salvo comes just days before Friday’s scheduled postponement of the legislature’s spring session.

When asked if staff were planning a walkout this week, association organizer and legislative analyst Brady Burden responded in a text message: “If they can’t pass a budget, it won’t be our fault.”

Illinois Capitol News is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and television stations throughout the state. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and the Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Watch more news, weather and sports on the News 8 YouTube channel