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Illinoisans call on Speaker Welch to support invalidating labor rights amendment

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(The Center Square) – Critics of Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s support of the 2022 labor rights constitutional amendment are now saying it’s ironic that he’s not upholding what the amendment says.

The Illinois Legislative Staff Association filed a lawsuit Friday against Welch, D-Hillside, who was a proponent of an approved labor rights constitutional amendment. Now opponents who warned against campaigning for Amendment 1 are saying “we told you so.”

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 filed the lawsuit with a motion seeking judgment that Welch is violating his constitutional duty to perform and carry out the lawful business of the state.

Mailee Smith, Illinois Policy Institute staff attorney and senior director of Labor Policy, said the labor rights amendment known as Amendment 1 gives a fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively to any government worker.

“What this comes down to is: does the amendment really mean what it says it means? Either it means what it says and everyone, including legislative staff, has a fundamental right to unionize or it doesn’t mean what it says and that weakens the amendment,” Smith told The Center Square.

Amendment 1 is at the center of the lawsuit. The lawsuit says, “After campaigning for a constitutional amendment to ensure the collective bargaining rights of every Illinois citizen, the Defendant … has refused to acknowledge and sought to deprive Plaintiff Brady Burden and the Speaker’s own staff employees, of the very bargaining rights that the now-amended Illinois Constitution guarantees.”

Challenging the Amendment 1 question that appeared on the 2022 ballot is George Weckbacher.

“The Speaker could help his case by making sure this amendment is declared illegal,” said Weckbacher.

The House Speaker’s office didn’t immediately return The Center Square’s request for comment.

Weckbacher and others say the state and the Illinois State Board of Elections failed to follow provisions in the Illinois Constitution that lay out the criteria to amend the constitution. They argue not only did the amendment itself not appear on the ballot, but the Illinois Constitution says proposed revisions or amendments should be on a separate ballot. He is seeking a judicial declaration that says the 2022 ballot was illegal because the Amendment 1 question wasn’t presented to voters correctly. The case is to be heard in Sangamon County Circuit Court after a McLean County Circuit Court judge changed venues.

Smith said Amendment 1 will trump an old state law that used to protect Illinoisans and ensured some government workers couldn’t unionize, like legislative staff, who are tasked with keeping the Illinois General Assembly going.

“Amendment 1 wiped out protections for Illinoisans. Now there’s this weird interplay between whether or not the old law still applies, and that’s basically what it sounds like the Speaker is saying,” Smith said. “I think it’s ironic that he hasn’t recognized the extensive rights that were created by the Amendment he supported.”

Legislative staff are at the beck and call of lawmakers and sessions can be long, Smith said.

“You never know how late into the night a session can go. They really are the backbone of what’s happening within legislative chambers,” said Smith. “Since the party in control, the Democrat party, has been in support of unionizing it would stand to reason that their legislative staff would assume those same lawmakers would be in support of their unionization.”

Weckbacher said he hopes Welch will get on his side and testify to the fact that the 2022 Illinois ballot measure was invalid because the Amendment 1 question didn’t appear on a separate ballot nor did it present the actual text of the amendment. Weckbacher argued Amendment 1 did not follow Illinois provisions that stipulate how to amend the Constitution.

“I found that most of the Illinois politicians don’t have the foresight of their gut-reaction bills because they tend to think short-term instead of long-term,” Weckbacher said about Welch supporting and campaigning for Amendment 1. “People of interest, lobbyists, non-government organizations, unions often fall into the ear of the politician and if that’s all they hear that’s what they’re going to go for.”

Welch is listed as a defendant in the case: ILSA and Brady Burden v. Speaker of the House Emmanuel “Chris” Welch.

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