Union representatives disagree with city resolution

Stephanie Markham, News Editor

With a resolution supporting some of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s ideas on “empowerment zones” having passed the Charleston City Council April 7, some local union representatives disagree and believe it should have been brought forth for debate.

Despite the arguments on both sides, Mayor Larry Rennels said the resolution was only meant to tell the state that the council agreed with and wanted to consider implementing those ideas.

“With the whole issue, there are differing opinions, but our resolution didn’t enact anything the city can do,” Rennels said. “Anything like that would have to be signed by the governor.”

The Supporting Local Government Empowerment resolution states that the community should decide whether or not employees should be “forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.”

Derek Light, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 981 chapter, said because of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, workers who are not members of a union pay “fair share” to cover the costs of the union’s services.

The act states that labor organizations are responsible for representing the interests of all public employees in the unit they oversee.

Light gave the example of building service workers at Eastern like himself who all receive the benefits of having a local union regardless of their membership.

“If you get in trouble and have to go up to Old Main, whether you’re full member or fair share member, you still get the representation of the union body to help settle any claims,” he said.

Light said the idea of not “forcing” others to join unions or pay dues would mean people who do not pay for the union’s services still have access to them because of the Public Labor Relations Act.

He compared this to a citizen going into a restaurant and ordering food but claiming they have the right to it so they are not going to pay.

“Enough people finally said, ‘Why do I have to pay for this if I get the free stuff?’” Light said. “Then everybody quits paying, and before long there’s no union and you have no representation.”

Light said although the resolution does not change the law, he does not agree with the way the council voted on the resolution in one meeting without discussion or placing it on file for public inspection.

“We didn’t like how they kind of done it behind everyone’s back by not putting it out and let everybody talk about, but it doesn’t really affect us here at Eastern,” he said. “It affects the city workers, the firemen, the police officers.”

Fern Kory, the vice president of Eastern’s chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois, also said the resolution should have been discussed more openly.

“This seems to me to be the local version of a ‘shell bill;’ we’ll just tuck it in here so we don’t have to talk about it,” she said.

However, Rennels said the resolution was published on the city’s website several days before the meeting along with the council’s agenda, which he discussed directly with reporters.

Kory said she also disagreed with several aspects of the resolution itself including the language, which she does not believe is objective.

She said calling “fair share” a means of “forcing” people into unions is using loaded language to get a message across.

Kory said the council should have analyzed and processed each part of the resolution rather than restating Rauner’s ideas.

“If you were going to paraphrase something, you would have to put it in your own words to show you understand it, whereas when you just parrot somebody else’s words, they are talking through you,” she said.

Kory said while she understands the council’s concerns with the pressure of unfunded state mandates, she believes cities should be pushing back at the state rather than asking local workers to chip in.

“Basically the crisis keeps getting passed down,” she said. “What they’re being ‘empowered’ to do here is to make the same shortsighted choices that the state legislature has made.”

Kory also said though the resolution seeks to save the city and taxpayers money by going against the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act, she does not believe the city should be run like a business, and taxpayers should be considered “stakeholders” rather than “shareholders.”

Paul Wieck, the chairman of the Coles County Democratic Party, sent the mayor and council members emails with his concerns and said he most likely would address them at a future meeting.

His message also mentions biased language as well as the differences between public and private spending and concerns with changing worker’s compensation.

“I believe city council had no reason to jump on this since (it is) illegal and unlikely to ever be enacted,” Wieck said.

Although some disagree with the resolution, Rennels said the council does not presently have plans to bring it up again at a future meeting.


Stephanie Markham can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]