Bill would allow government bonuses for union members, but ban them for other state workers

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
April 24, 2018

Bill would allow government bonuses for union members, but ban them for other state workers

Government worker unions and their allies are preparing for a potential loss in Janus v. AFSCME, doing whatever they can to bolster union ranks. One example: House Bill 5309, which would privilege union status over the interests of other state government workers.

The Illinois House of Representatives is considering a bill to boost government union ranks in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Janus v. AFSCME.

On its face, House Bill 5309 prohibits bonuses to employees of state agencies. It’s a sweeping prohibition that would interfere with any government compensation program intended to encourage efficiency by rewarding workers based on merit.

But there’s much more to it than that.

The bill defines the term “employee” to explicitly exclude anyone covered by a collective bargaining agreement. That means any government worker represented by a union could receive bonus compensation, but other employees could not.

For decades, government workers in Illinois have had to make an unfair decision: Pay a union or lose your job.

But that could change with Janus v. AFSCME, an Illinois-based case challenging current laws that deprive government workers of basic constitutional rights. The court’s ruling is expected before the end of June. If the court sides with worker freedom, it will be the first time in 40 years that government workers nationwide will have a real choice in whether to support the unions that claim to represent their interests.

Government workers would still be represented by unions in the event that the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus, but they would not be forced to pay dues or fees to a union. In the future, government workers could gain freedom from union representation altogether. The potential loss of union membership has spurred government unions and their allies to scramble to maintain union ranks.

Preserving privilege and power

This bill could encourage unionization in at least two ways.

First, HB 5309 could encourage nonunionized state employees to push for new government worker unions.

Under the language of HB 5309, the status of union-represented state workers is elevated over those who have not unionized or cannot unionize under state law, such as managerial employees, legislative liaisons, or lawyers in the attorney general’s office. A union could still negotiate for and obtain bonuses for the state employees it represents. But any other state employees who are not represented by a union would not get bonuses. Any state workers who are not currently represented by a government union may be more inclined to push for the right to unionize in order to receive bonus compensation.

Second, HB 5309 could discourage government union members from opting out of their unions in the future.

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of worker freedom in Janus, it will mean government workers will no longer be forced to pay fees to a union. But it does not mean workers will be free from union representation. In fact, they will continue to be covered by any collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union (in Illinois, unions heavily advocated for this requirement).

The next step in freeing government workers from unwanted union representation is Worker’s Choice legislation – provisions that would allow government workers to opt out of both union fees and union representation. They would be free to negotiate for themselves with their government employer over wages, hours and other conditions of employment. House Bill 673 would establish Worker’s Choice in Illinois.

HB 5309 would work to sour workers on opting out of a union in the event Worker’s Choice legislation ultimately passes in Illinois. Because workers who opt out of unions in a Worker’s Choice system would no longer be covered by a collective bargaining agreement, under HB 5309, they would not be eligible for any employer-given bonuses. This both enhances the attractiveness of union representation and also takes away a bargaining chip from nonunion workers by taking merit-based compensation off the negotiating table.

In other words, the long-term impact of HB 5309 would be to place nonmembers at a disadvantage and encourage them to join or stay in their unions.

Government unions in Illinois already have excessive power – more so than in any surrounding state. Government unions and their friends in the General Assembly could use HB 5309 to make sure it stays that way.

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