• Ben Szalinski
    OCT 26, 2023


    House approves plan allowing legislative staff to unionize, but future in Senate uncertain  

    House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) presents his bill in the House on Wednesday. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line] 

    The House approved a plan on Wednesday that will allow legislative staff to form a union and collectively bargain, but the bill’s future in the Senate is uncertain. 

    The House voted 74-35 along party lines to pass HB4148, the proposal that will allow certain staff members in the House and Senate and in both parties to form a union. Reps. Jeff Keicher (R-Oswego), Martin McLaughlin (R-Barrington Hills), Amy Elik (R-Wheaton) and CD Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) voted present.  

    Welch introduced the plan earlier this month after taking heat from members of his staff throughout the late spring and summer for not voluntarily recognizing his staff’s request to form a union. Members of the speaker’s research and appropriations team first asked to form a union last November.   

    “I thought they were courageous, and I want you to know that these employees have been heard, that we support these employees,” Welch said on the House floor Wednesday.   

    The Illinois Legislative Staff Association (ILSA) told The Daily Line they’re happy with the progress that’s been made.   

    “We still have some stuff to iron out, but we are confident that any differences are within reach,” the association said. “We are appreciative of the lines of communication Speaker and his aides have opened and hope to cultivate a similar relationship with President Harmon and his team going forward.” 

    The bill’s future in the Senate is uncertain. Welch acknowledged he’s had conversations with Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) about the bill, but it did not represent an agreement between the leaders. A spokesperson for Harmon said the chamber will review the bill.  

    “This bill was a result of several meetings,” Welch said. “We took a lot of things into consideration from those meetings. We met with the staff who are part of ILSA. We met with House GOP staff, we met with Senate Dems, we met with our staff again.”  

    Under Welch’s bill, staff would be allowed to bargain over conditions of employment such as hours and pay, but not on managerial policy. Employees can’t negotiate over elections, leadership decisions made by the speaker, staff assignments, and the legislative calendar, including the late nights that often happen at the end of session. Staff would also be prohibited from striking during a month session is schedule.  

    After the bill initially went through committee on Tuesday, Welch filed an amendment with some additional changes, though mostly technical. The most significant moves clarified that newly elected officials don’t have to keep employees from the previous office holder and five days of notice are required for a strike, rather than 30. The 2026 full effective date was not changed, but the labor relations office that will oversee bargaining will be created by mid-2025. 

    “We also want to make sure we have a sustainable on ramp to prepare for these changes,” Welch said.  

    During debate, Welch also clarified that the bill exempts district office chiefs of staff and deputy chiefs of staff from collective bargaining provisions. Other senior members or supervisors on staff are also exempt. Using an analogy shared by one of his attorneys, Welch likened the relationship between district staff and the collective bargaining law to the NFL, where individual teams can set policies for their organization, but the NFL sets a broad framework for teams to follow.  

    “This is a really interesting topic,” Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said. “I think we certainly all appreciate all the work that is done by the staff.”  

    Though Republicans expressed interest in the topic on the floor and in committee, none voted for the bill which would impact their staff. House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) suggested the grievances Welch’s staff members have raised are more pertinent to the speaker’s office.  

    “Our staff staffs the same amount of committees that your staff does,” McCombie said. “Without the insights about what’s going to be called in those said committees. So if you’re talking about having respect for staff, then have respect for staff and give ours a heads up.” 

    “We work through our issues with our staff,” McCombie continued. “Our staff has issues 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. That’s what good leaders do.” 

    Spain speculated that having a collective bargaining agreement could lead to some changes in how the House functionally runs, such as the late nights that often mark the final days of the spring session.  

    “Maybe that could be a very good thing,” Spain said. “I’m one who believes and can point to many examples of all-nighters here in this chamber or in the Bank of Springfield Center, that in my opinion have not resulted in very good outcomes at a policy level and they certainly weren’t a very good environment for our staff.” 

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