An ordinance that would prevent social service organizations from cracking down on unionization in order to get city contracts cleared a key hurdle Tuesday, delivering Chicago labor groups a major victory despite attempts from a coalition of major nonprofits to kill it.
The measure, dubbed a “labor peace agreement,” passed a City Council committee and will go for a vote before the full City Council on Wednesday. The once-dormant proposal has been in the works for three years and found new life in an election year that would strengthen the labor rights of those who work for organizations that serve the city within the public health and family and support sectors.
The ordinance maintains that nonprofits receiving city funds agree not to disrupt efforts by their employees to unionize while the workers agree not to go on strike, boycott or otherwise halt business. It would apply to any organization with 20 or more employees and does not exempt religious organizations.
Ahead of the vote, a representative from the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago asked council members to delay voting on the measure, while Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce CEO Jack Lavin warned the ordinance would have a chilling effect on residents who need services from the nonprofits. The Chicago Archdiocese also wrote a letter opposing the ordinance, saying it would hurt the Catholic Charities of Chicago.
“These organizations — all of whom provide critical services in every ward across Chicago — would be devastated by this proposed ordinance,” Lavin said. “Simply put, this ordinance would cripple these organizations’ ability to support our most vulnerable populations with the vital services they need.”
Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter and Adrienne Alexander, intergovernmental affairs director for the local chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, supported the measure.
“Right now, what’s been happening with some agencies where their workers have tried to organize, the workers have faced thousands of dollars in anti-union consultants and law firms that have tried to discourage unionization,” Alexander said.
The measure passed the joint health and workforce committee 24-5, with Aldermen Roderick Sawyer, 6th, Jason Ervin, 28th, Walter Burnett, 27th, Matthew O’Shea, 19th, and Thomas Tunney, 44th, voting in opposition.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration hasn’t taken a position on the ordinance.
On Tuesday, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady warned that the restrictions included in the ordinance would backfire because the city needs to contract with nonprofits to provide services more than those organizations need city funds. Arwady urged council members to slow down the process because she hasn’t seen the latest version of the ordinance, which sparked an argument over communication between the City Council and Lightfoot’s administration.
“All due respect, Dr. Arwady, this has been a three-year process,” said Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza, 10th, an outgoing member of the City Council who heads the workforce development committee. “If you haven’t seen this ordinance in three years, then shame on this administration.”
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