An ordinance barring social service organizations from fighting to unionize to win city contracts cleared a major hurdle Tuesday, handing Chicago labor groups a major victory despite efforts by a coalition of major nonprofits to kill it.
Dubbed the “labor peace agreement,” the measure was passed by a City Council committee and will go before the full City Council for a vote on Wednesday. The once-dormant proposal was three years in the making and was given new life in an election year, which would have strengthened the employment rights of those working in organizations serving the city in the public health, family and support sectors.
The ordinance states that nonprofits that receive city funds agree not to interfere with their employees’ unionization efforts, while workers agree not to strike, boycott or otherwise disrupt business. This will apply to any organization with 20 or more employees and does not exempt religious organizations.
Ahead of the vote, a representative of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago asked council members to delay a vote on the measure, while Chicago Chamber of Commerce CEO Jack Lavin warned the ordinance would have a dire effect on residents who need the nonprofit’s services. The Archdiocese of Chicago also wrote a letter opposing the ordinance, saying it would harm Chicago’s Catholic Charities.
“These organizations — all of which provide critical services in every ward across Chicago — will be devastated by this proposed ordinance,” Lavin said. “Simply put, this ruling cripples the ability of these organizations to support the most vulnerable populations with vital services.”
Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter and Adrienne Alexander, director of intergovernmental affairs for the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, supported the measure.
“Right now, what’s happening with some agencies where their employees have tried to organize, the workers have faced thousands of dollars in anti-union consultants and law firms trying to prevent unionization,” Alexander said.
The measure passed the Joint Committee on Health and Human Resources on a 24-5 vote: Reps. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, Jason Erwin, 28th, Walter Burnett, 27th, Matthew O’Shea, 19th, and Thomas Tanya, 44th, voted against.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration has not taken a position on the ordinance.
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arvadi warned Tuesday that the restrictions included in the ordinance would backfire because the city would have to contract with nonprofits to provide more services than those organizations need city funds. Arvadi urged council members to slow down the process because she hadn’t seen the latest version of the ordinance, sparking a dispute over communication between the City Council and Lightfoot’s administration.
“With all due respect, Dr. Arvadi, it’s been a three-year process,” Ald said. Sue Sadlowski Garza, 10th, is a retired City Council member who chairs the Workforce Development Committee. “If you haven’t seen this decree in three years, then shame on this administration.”