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New Illinois law criminalizes impeding picket lines

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(The Center Square) – Penalties for impeding picket lines and other demonstrations or protests will soon be increasing in Illinois.

Beginning Jan. 1, the Labor Disputes Act limits the amount of monetary damages an employer can recover stemming from a labor dispute, and also imposes a fine of at least $500 for anyone to place an object that would obstruct a picket line or other demonstration. That includes placing objects in the public way.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, said it is about the safety of the picketers.

“House Bill 3396 deals with the ongoing increasingly dangerous issue facing those who are lawfully engaging in picketing,” said Villivalam. “Obstructing the public right of way is a safety hazard.”

The law also grants picketers and protestors the right to use the public right of way to publicize their labor dispute.

Opponents of the measure argued the law could have a negative impact on businesses in Illinois and ultimately cause them to pack up and leave the state.

State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, said during debate that the legislation goes overboard.

“I understand as far as wanting to be able to picket and exercise their right as union members, but I believe this goes a bit far and is creating a criminal penalty where none is needed,” said Ugaste.

Illinois has seen a rash of striking workers hitting the picket line in 2023, including the United Auto Workers, numerous Illinois state colleges and universities, and health care workers. There have been no reported serious issues with any picket line or demonstration this year.

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