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Staffers allege ‘climate of fear’ is lawsuit against Illinois House Speaker

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(The Center Square) – Alleging a “climate of fear or anxiety,” staffers with the Illinois House Speaker’s Office are suing to get immediate recognition as a union and for the office to start collective bargaining.

The Illinois Legislative Staff Association says it filed in Cook County a motion seeking judgment that House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, is violating his constitutional duty to perform and carry out the lawful business of the state.

“We are done waiting for Speaker Welch to take responsibility for the lack of action on the part of himself and his aides,” the group said in a statement. “We are done waiting for him to take the initiative to do what is best for his caucus and the people of Illinois. We are done waiting for something more than reluctant half-measures and poorly written messaging bills. Enough is enough.”

A legal filing, shared with The Center Square, says the plaintiffs are seeking relief “with respect to the Defendant Speaker’s refusal to discuss wages, hours, and working conditions with the ILSA, as required by law.”

The staff association said Welch campaigned for a constitutional amendment to ensure the collective bargaining rights of every Illinois citizen, but that he hasn’t followed through in regards to the staffers’ situation.

“Welch has refused to acknowledge and sought to deprive Plaintiff Brady Burden and the Speaker’s own staff employees, who are members of the Plaintiff Illinois Legislative Staff Association (‘ILSA’), of the very bargaining rights that the now-amended Illinois Constitution guarantees,” the suit said.

Illinois voters narrowly approved the labor rights amendment in the 2022 election which guarantees the right to collective bargaining in the Illinois Constitution.

A spokesperson for the Speaker’s office said “At this time, the Speaker nor the Speaker’s office has been served with a lawsuit, but we will thoroughly review once that has happened.”

The staff association’s legal filing discusses how after the enactment of the labor rights amendment, they formed an independent, unaffiliated labor organization and had other employees sign cards stating they are joining. With a majority of eligible employees signing on, they took steps toward beginning collective bargaining November 2022.

“In the first meeting and subsequent meetings, the Defendant Speaker’s legal counsel and chief of staff refused to engage in collective bargaining, and instead only discussed their doubt that such bargaining could proceed at all, insisting that the ‘proper process’ be followed, which they implied was the certification of the ILSA by the Illinois State Labor Relations Board,” the filing says.

Plaintiffs said that “was a futility” as the executive director of the labor relations board dismissed the petition “on the grounds that its organic law … did not give jurisdiction to the Board.”

The filing also highlights House Bill 4148, which plaintiffs said still violates their rights by not being retroactive and including staff that are not part of the Speaker’s office. While HB4148 passed the House in October 2023, it never moved in the Senate before they adjourned this week for the summer.

“Defendant continues to take the position that they will not collectively bargain with Plaintiffs absent legislation in force that dictates what structure that bargaining will take,” the plaintiffs say.

Plaintiffs further explain that the situation has “created a climate of fear or anxiety within the staff and a sense of vulnerability to discharge or removal because of the belief fostered by the Defendant Speaker that the Plaintiff ILSA is powerless to protect them and the Defendant Speaker can deal with staff as he pleases, with no concern for their rights under the law.”

The association is demanding a judge declare that Welch has deprived them of their rights to engage in collective bargaining, order Welch to appoint a mediator to confer with the association and order the office to post or mail to employees recognition and assurance that their rights to collective bargaining come without reprisal.

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