Chicago City Council passes ordinance to support workers’ right to organize

A flurry of advocacy by Chicago union members provided a final push for enactment of a “labor peace agreement” to protect human service workers from management retaliation.  

 Last month, the Chicago City Council passed the AFSCME-sponsored Human Service Workforce Advancement (HSWA) ordinance by a veto-proof majority of 42-2.  

 The ordinance requires human service agencies that receive city funding and have more than 20 employees to agree not to retaliate against employees who are seeking to form a union. In exchange, workers would agree not to disrupt operations by picketing or taking part in other job actions. 

Human service workers from several different agencies provided a powerful impetus for action, telling their stories on camera and encouraging aldermen to support the ordinance. Workers spoke of the hardship they faced that motivated them to try to organize a union at their workplace, as well as the harsh retaliation they faced from management for speaking out. 

“Me and my co-workers decided to form a union because of the treatment we were receiving,” said Trevious Butler, a former employee of Threshold, a Chicago human service provider. “I was paid only $17.40 an hour, and they were able to afford big time lawyers to bust up the union from being organized. I took part in a union video, and a week later, I was fired.”  

Working people from across the city stepped up to the call for action, sending nearly 250 letters to the city council calling for the aldermen to pass the HSWA ordinance.  

AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch hailed the passage of the ordinance. 

 "We believe that every worker has a right to a voice on the job. But too often, human service workers have been denied that right due to employer interference. This ordinance says that if an agency receives funding from the city of Chicago and its employees want to form a union, their rights will be respected and protected," said Lynch, who’s also an AFSCME vice president.  

Watch this video where workers who were fired for unionizing explain why the ordinance is so important.