More Rauner, Democrat showdowns on tap in fall session

Illinois Legislature

SPRINGFIELD — There’s likely another Illinois Capitol showdown on its way between the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

After Democrats in the Legislature bested the Republican in July by adopting a long-awaited budget, lawmakers return Tuesday to reconsider other flashpoint issues Rauner nixed.

The fall session will include possible override votes on core issues that have defined Rauner’s nearly three years in office and come just a day after the conservative businessman announced his intention to seek a second term in November 2018.

Whether the contentious budget Democrats approved with support from an income-tax increase will jump to the forefront is uncertain. What’s certain is the fight isn’t over. Rauner has declared the state’s first annual budget since he took office to be $1.7 billion out of balance.

He proposed budget cuts that a legislative analysis pins at $370 million — largely to programs popular with Democrats. And there’s still as much as $1.2 billion from the year that ended June 30 that was spent based on the assumption of legislative appropriation authority that wasn’t forthcoming.

Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat and House budget negotiator, said the budget approved in July included authority to pay those old bills with the new budget, but at the expense of paying incoming bills.

“They could pay those bills out of current-year appropriations, but that means at some point in the next couple of months, they’ll run out of money for the rest of fiscal year ’18. It’s a huge problem,” Harris said.

Potential veto overrides are no less a headache for either side. Lawmakers can create laws despite a governor’s veto with a three-fifths majority override vote.

Up for potential overrides is legislation that would prohibit local “right to work” zones that unions oppose and Rauner continues to champion.

Another measure, pushed by Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza, would require state agencies to report monthly on the bills they’ve incurred but not yet sent to the comptroller for processing. Mendoza said it would help her budget for paying down a $16.3 billion pile of past-due bills.

A plan Rauner rejected that would increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2022 awaits action, as does a proposal to require companies writing workers’ compensation insurance to get state approval for the premiums they charge.

Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s legislation to create a “bill of rights” for student-loan recipients is up for override, as is a measure from Democratic Treasurer Michael Frerichs to make it easier to collect life insurance benefits when a beneficiary dies.

John O’Connor | Associated Press

Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed to this report from Chicago.

Article Photo: Still struggling with budget problems and faced with new demands for cash, the Illinois General Assembly returns Tuesday for the first week of its fall session. Lawmakers will deal with re-establishing the Medicaid program for hospitals and could take up vetoes by Gov. Bruce Rauner on workers’ compensation and minimum wage. |
File photo by Justin Fowler/The State Journal-Register, distributed by the Associated Press

 

Supreme Court to hear new challenge to labor unions

supreme court

A Supreme Court with a reconstituted conservative majority is taking on a new case with the potential to financially cripple Democratic-leaning labor unions that represent government workers. The justices deadlocked 4-4 in a similar case last year.

The high court agreed Thursday to again consider a free-speech challenge from workers who object to paying money to unions they don’t support.

The court could decide to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court ruling that allows public sector unions to collect fees from non-members to cover the costs of negotiating contracts for all employees.

The latest appeal is from a state employee in Illinois. It was filed at the Supreme Court just two months after Justice Neil Gorsuch filled the high court seat that had been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia‘s death.

The stakes are high. Union membership in the U.S. declined to just 10.7 percent of the workforce last year, and the ranks of private-sector unions have been especially hard hit.

About half of all union members now work for federal, state and local governments, and many are in states like Illinois, New York, and California that are largely Democratic and seen as friendly toward unions.

The Illinois case involves Mark Janus, a state employee who says Illinois law violates his free speech rights by requiring him to pay fees subsidizing a union he doesn’t support, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. About half the states have similar laws covering so-called “fair share” fees that cover bargaining costs for non-members.

Janus is seeking to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that said public workers who refuse to join a union can still be required to pay for bargaining costs, as long as the fees don’t go toward political purposes. The arrangement was supposed to prevent non-members from “free riding,” since the union has a legal duty to represent all workers.

A federal appeals court in Chicago rejected Janus’ claim in March. Gorsuch was confirmed in April and the appeal was filed in June.

The justices will hear argument in the winter.

 

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune
Article Photo: The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Rauner looks to Washington for the power to change pension benefits

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Stymied by a Democrat-controlled General Assembly and still in a contract dispute with the largest state employee union, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is looking to Washington for help advancing his agenda to weaken the influence of organized labor in Illinois.

He’s lobbying Congress to give states like Illinois the power to change public employee pension benefits, which he argues are overly generous because of a “corrupt bargain” between politicians and union negotiators. And the governor is hoping to get legal victories over unions at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the recent appointment of a new conservative justice could tilt decisions in his favor.

The focus on D.C. allows the first-term governor to show supporters he has a plan for delivering on the promises he made as a candidate despite losing a two-year budget battle with Democrats over the summer. And it comes as Rauner prepares for a re-election campaign in which he needs to win back his conservative base after his approval of controversial abortion and immigration legislation left many of them angry.

Much of the major legislation Rauner signed this year — an overhaul of the state’s education funding system and a boost in spending on schools; a bill protecting immigrants from federal deportation efforts; an expansion of taxpayer-funded abortions; and a new law allowing automatic voter registration — are measures that Democrats first pushed. Left undone is his promise to get the state’s financial house in order, which hinged in part on cutting the cost of Illinois’ unionized government workforce.

Speaking to a gathering of business leaders in late September, Rauner said he was turning to Washington for help with one part of that effort — getting control of Illinois’ massive pension debt, which stands at about $130 billion and ranks among the worst in the nation.

“We need the help. We need the help because the system’s rigged. Can’t change it, can’t fix it,” Rauner said.

As a candidate and as governor, Rauner had proposed cutting pension costs by transitioning workers to less generous benefit packages or 401(k)-style retirement plans. But past attempts to cut retirement costs have run up against legal problems. The Illinois Constitution stipulates that benefits cannot be “diminished or impaired” once they are bestowed to workers, and the state Supreme Court has stood by those words.

The governor thinks Congress can release the state from that restriction by passing a law that would give states permission to come up with cost-saving changes to their pension programs. The option would be available to states only after they had established that spending money on workers’ retirement plans is hampering other essential services.

After conducting hearings, a state would have to propose its changes to a court, which would hear arguments from people who would be affected. Options could include reducing benefits provided under a pension plan, changing the way benefits are calculated or limiting the number of pensions a person can collect.

“There’s so many things that we can’t touch because we’re unreasonably hamstrung,” Rauner said. “And the federal government can say, ‘No, federal restructuring law supersedes the state restrictions, Congress is freeing up states to restructure their pensions as they need to, as they see fit.’”

The idea comes from conservative policy circles but hasn’t been written into legislation that’s been seriously considered in Washington. Critics like Democratic Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said the idea raises “serious constitutional concerns.”

“Frankly, I find it troubling that a governor would turn to Congress and Donald Trump to try to invalidate his own state’s constitution,” Cullerton said. “If it starts with workers’ retirement security, where would it stop?”

Rauner said his administration lawyers are “talking to everybody in the federal government” about the idea. He said last month that he hoped to see it included “with the tax overhaul” that’s been anticipated as the next big issue to be taken up in Washington.

Even if the appeal to the federal government goes nowhere, it allows Rauner to tell voters he has a plan for dealing with the pension problem.

Asked Friday if he had given up on trying to work with the General Assembly to solve the pension shortfall, Rauner said he thought “the true solutions for reforming pensions will come from the state level.”

“The idea for the federal is just to allow states to actually structure their pensions the right way,” Rauner said. “We have a lot of spiking, and two and three pensions, and some not good, not fair structure inside there that’s costing a lot of money and taking money away from the honest state employees who do not have a rigged deal. So we need to make some changes.”

Even as he blames the state’s pension woes on unions, the governor is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court for help diminishing their power. Rauner got a boost from the court last month when the justices agreed to hear a case he initiated when he first took office in 2015.

That case centers on government employee unions, which collect what’s known as “fair share” fees from nonmembers. The thinking behind the fees is that all employees should pay for the cost of negotiating contracts and handling employee grievances and other services provided by unions. Rauner wants to put a stop to the fees, contending that requiring nonmembers to contribute financially to a union is a violation of their rights to free speech.

A decision in that case is expected next year. A similar case was heard by the Supreme Court in 2016 and resulted in a 4-4 tie vote after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death left the bench with just eight members. Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s new appointee to the court, could hold the tie-breaking vote.

A second, lesser-known case is also making its way through the legal system, and Rauner hopes it, too, will land at the high court.

That case involves an attempt by the Lake County village of Lincolnshire to enact what’s known as a right-to-work ordinance — a measure that would prohibit private sector employers from entering into agreements with unions that require workers to join or pay fees as a condition of employment. Some Midwestern states have enacted such laws in recent years, and Rauner says the shifting landscape has left Illinois at a competitive disadvantage to its neighbors. He’s contended that individual communities should have the freedom to decide if they want to require union membership.

A federal district court struck down the Lincolnshire ordinance this year, ruling that only states have the power to enact laws prohibiting mandatory union participation. The village is appealing the ruling with the help of the Liberty Justice Center, which is an affiliate of the Illinois Policy Institute. The group is a libertarian-to-conservative think tank to which Rauner donated at least $500,000 before he became governor and from which he hired several key staff members over the summer.

“We’re in federal court right now to make sure that states can have their local governments, counties and cities, decide for themselves their labor regulations,” Rauner told the Illinois Chamber of Commerce in a late September speech in which he tried to reassure business leaders he can still accomplish the pro-business agenda he campaigned on. “If we can free this up with local control, I promise you, we can have hundreds more companies coming to the state of Illinois because there are thousands of businesses around America that won’t go to a closed-shop state, they just won’t even consider it.”

Rauner told reporters he hopes the case will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s unknown how the justices would rule, but Gorsuch has a track record of siding with business interests.

Closer to home, the governor is in the midst of a court battle with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest public worker union in Illinois, over a contract to replace the one that expired in 2015. Rauner tried to impose his own contract terms on the union late last year, but a court put that process on hold while the case makes its way through the legal system. Oral arguments haven’t been scheduled for that case yet, meaning it is likely to continue into next year.

kgeiger@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @kimgeiger

Article Photo: Gov. Bruce Rauner announces plans for a public-private initiative, to be run by the University of Illinois system, on Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago.  (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

 

Rauner vetoes bill that would prevent local ‘right-to-work’ zones

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Where We’ve Been

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

The history of LIUNA is the history of America and Canada. Born out of the struggle for better lives and fair, safe working conditions, the union formed in 1903, grew quickly, and then suffered during the Great Depression when wages plummeted. Out of this hardship came legislation designed to protect workers and help the economy recover. The laws passed in the 1930s are still crucial to the fight for labor rights today—they established prevailing wages, set minimum standards for working conditions, and enforced collective bargaining rights. During World War II, LIUNA members worked and sacrificed for war efforts, suspending dues and pledging support to the National Defense Program. After the war, the union helped negotiate fair contracts and safe working conditions for the infrastructure projects that helped form the U.S. and Canada, including the international highway system, dams, and pipelines. In the 1960s, LIUNA fought to end racial discrimination within unions, and members marched proudly beside Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1965, the union changed its name from The Hod Carriers and Building Laborers’ Union to LIUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America) to reflect the tremendous growth and diversity of its membership. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, LIUNA increased training, safety, and services for members. After more than 100 years of fighting for workers and forging the highways, buildings and public services that shape American and Canada today, LIUNA is 500,000 members strong and continues its fierce commitment to improving the lives of workers. Together, LIUNA members wield their collective power to lead workers, employers, and policy makers in America and Canada toward growth for the new century and beyond.