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NEW YORK – A Chicago alderman has pushed back against objections from Cardinal Blase Cupich concerning a proposed new labor ordinance in the city, bluntly calling the prelate’s objections “a bunch of baloney.”
In essence, the proposed measure, called “The Human Service Workforce Advancement Ordinance,” would require employers to promise not to retaliate against employees who decide to join a union.
In a two-page letter to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and all 50 aldermen, Cupich said the legislation is being pushed through with “great haste” and that it could force Catholic Charities and other non-profit groups to choose between higher wages or serving the poor.
The measure, Cupich wrote, “not only will hamper the ability of Catholic Charities and our peers to fulfill our shared mission to our neighborhoods in need, but may threaten the continued existence of many of our partners,” adding that the City Council’s first legislative priority ought to be increased funding for social services.
As drafted, the ordinance contains an exemption stating that a “contract shall not include any agreement entered into by the city with a religious institution.”
Susan Sadlowski-Garza, alderwoman of Chicago’s 10th Ward and chairwoman of the city’s Committee on Workforce Development, who wrote a response to Cupich’s letter, told Crux that she was “floored” when she first read the cardinal’s comments.
Garza said the cardinal’s claims are a “bunch of baloney.”
“Religious organizations are exempt, so I don’t even know why he’s weighing in,” she said.
Garza rejected the notion that it would significantly impact the archdiocese, not only because of the religious exemption but because there’s no funding tied to the ordinance. She emphasized that “all of the agencies are getting nervous, and they don’t need to be, because it doesn’t cost anybody a dime.”
“All it does is create an agreement between the employer and the employee that if the employees decide to organize there will be no retaliation against them,” Garza said. “That’s it. There’s no money tied to this thing. It just guarantees that people have a seat at the table and a say in their workplace.”
The Human Service Workforce Advancement Ordinance was proposed about two and a half years ago. Since then, there have been one hearing and four listening sessions about it. Garza said the hope is to have another hearing on the proposed ordinance next week, which will include a vote.
In a conversation with Crux, Sally Blount, the executive director and CEO Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Chicago, didn’t comment directly on the religious exemption, instead saying that “our view is that this is all about the people we serve and we’ve got to lead with that, and then we can figure out what are the best ways to take care of our workers.”
“My view is that you can’t put the ordinance in without having the funding discussion, and that’s exactly why we need to pause,” Blount said. “We totally understand the motivation, and we share it, but let’s slow down and study it and make sure that we are there to meet the needs of the people in our region.”
Another letter to Lightfoot and members of the Chicago City Council on behalf of a coalition of 44 private providers of human services in the Chicago area also highlights increased funding as the foremost issue for the city to address to help both the organizations and people they serve.
On the call for increased funding, Garza acknowledged that the city needs to make sure service organizations are fully funded, but maintained that’s a different conversation which is separate from the proposed labor peace agreement.
Increased funding, she explained, is a topic for the budgetary process.
“It’s a separate conversation from what this ordinance entails because, again, a labor peace agreement has no funding attached to it whatsoever,” Garza said. “But we do need to make sure that these agencies – they’re frontline workers and we need to make sure that they do have fully funded operations and have what they need. Absolutely, 100 percent.”
Citing the two-and-half-year timeline, the alderwoman also rejected the idea that the ordinance is being rushed through. She said not one organization has written anything to the City Council expressing their concerns and changes they would like to see.
“None of these organizations have given us anything in writing saying what they want struck out of the ordinance or what they want to put in, nothing,” Garza said. “It just seems like they’re out running scared to me, and they don’t actually know what a labor peace agreement is.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg