Illinois House Democrats Thursday voted down a right-to-work plan closely mirroring Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to allow local governments to permit workers to opt out of unions, in an attempt to pressure the Republican governor in contentious budget negotiations.
The party that holds a veto-proof supermajority unanimously voted against the legislation that would allow local governments to establish “employee empowerment zones” where it would be unlawful to require union membership at workplaces within those areas.
The zones, according to the bill, can apply to both private and public sector employee unions. It's part of a set of pro-business reforms Rauner wants passed in exchange for agreeing to new revenue to help close a $6 billion budget gap in the fiscal year starting in July.
Thursday's vote was 0-72-37. The Democrats who control the House cast “no” votes. The entire Republican caucus, with the exception of one member, voted present because they said the vote was a “political sham.”
Democrats in a heated debate said the proposal would adversely affect middle class families.
Rauner has toured Illinois touting his idea of local “empowerment zones.” The zones would allow voters to make union membership voluntary at unionized workplaces. It’s a key part of pro-business reforms Rauner wants passed in exchange for new revenue to help close a $6 billion budget gap.
The vote Thursday was on a vote drafted by Democrats.
Rauner has not yet put his plan into the form of a bill. Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, pointed that out during debate on the House floor.
“Where’s his bill? Where is his bill?” Hoffman said. “He doesn’t want us voting on this, because he knows it’s going to go down in flames.”
Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, said the bill was authored by Democrat House Speaker Michael Madigan, and not a true reflection of Rauner’s proposal.
“It’s not a real bill,” Sandack said, calling the maneuver an opportunity for Democrats to create “YouTube commercials for the next campaign.”
Sandack said one-party rule by Democrats has made Illinois the “laughingstock of the country” because of its unemployment, pension liability and debt.
“Let’s be responsible. Let’s lead finally,” Sandack said.
Rauner, at a news conference at the state Capitol Thursday, called Thursday’s vote “political theater” and expressed optimism both sides could reach compromise on both the budget, and his agenda.
“This is just part of the political process,” he said. “We’re working together, we’ll get through it.”
Unions have fought hard against the proposal.
“There have been thousands and thousands of phone calls from constituents to state representatives in the last three days, voicing their disapproval of Gov. Rauner’s scheme to have illegal right-to-work zones.,” said Michael T. Carrigan, president of Illinois AFL-CIO. “Right-to-work hurts all families in Illinois and drives down wages and benefits for all workers.”