217.370.8505 cory@bletislb.org

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Three new laws sponsored by a local state senator are set to strengthen labor protections in the state when they take effect at the start of next year.

One law makes it a crime to interfere with picketing workers, another limits judges from awarding money for damage to a businesses’ property, while the other awards disability benefits to any police officer, firefighter or paramedic who became ill following the declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

State Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) filed the coronavirus-related amendment to the Public Employee Disability Act, Senate Bill 214, and he was the chief senate sponsor of the two amendments to the Labor Dispute Act, House Bills 2907 and 3396.

“We want to support employees,” Villivalam said in a statement. “These new protections will safeguard employees’ right to picket as well as protect them in court by upholding their workers’ rights, and continue to support them outside of the office.”

The bill providing benefits to public safety employees, S.B. 214, had the most bipartisan support of all three pieces of legislation. Senators voted 55-0 to approve it, while state representatives voted 91-11 in favor of its passage.

H.B. 2907, which restricts state courts from awarding monetary damages in a labor dispute — except for damages done to an employer’s property resulting from illegal conduct — passed through the Senate by a 47-6 vote and through the house with 80 “yays”, 30 “nays” and two “present” votes.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that federal law does not protect a union from being liable for damage that occurred during a work stoppage. After a group of Teamsters in Washington State walked off the job with wet concrete still in their trucks, their employer, Glacier Northwest, sought to sue the union for damages.

Legal experts predicted political backers of unions, especially in Democrat-led states, would introduce new laws to explicitly protect workers in such situations, though they may face their own challenges in court.

The law that makes it a misdemeanor to places an object in the public way to interfere with, obstruct or impede a picket line or other labor demonstration or protest, H.B. 3396, passed the Senate 48-8 and won House approval by a 75-33 vote.

Anyone who blocks such a protest faces a minimum fine of $500, according to the text of the bill.

“Employees exercising their rights can be impeded by malicious and abusive employers, and this law will address those issues,” Villivalam said. “Many labor activists have stressed the importance of protecting workers fighting for their rights. This legislation supports that goal.”

Villivalam worked as a lobbyist in Springfield for the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, before his 2018 election to represent the 8th Senate District, which includes the suburbs of Skokie, Lincolnwood, Park Ridge and Morton Grove, as well as the North Side neighborhoods of West Ridge, North Park and Forest Glen in Chicago,