National & International

Group of building owners sues Chicago over fair workweek law, saying it shouldn’t apply to union contracts

A group representing Chicago building owners and managers is suing the city over legislation designed to give workers more predictable schedules, claiming the law gives unions too much bargaining power.

The Building Owners and Managers Association, which represents 239 Chicago commercial office, institutional and public buildings plus 169 companies that provide building services, filed the lawsuit Friday in Chicago federal court, alleging the city's fair workweek ordinance violates federal collective bargaining rules.

The ordinance, approved by the City Council this summer and set to take effect next July, requires certain employers to give their workers at least 10 days' notice of their schedules – eventually it will rise to 14 days – and compensate them for last-minute changes. It is meant to protect employees against unpredictable work hours that make it difficult for them to plan for child care, go to school, work a second job or have confidence that their paychecks will cover their bills.

Employers and unions must waive the fair workweek protections in any new collective bargaining agreements, or the protections will apply. In its lawsuit, the trade group alleges that provision violates the National Labor Relations Act by giving unions an extra bargaining chip.

The suit also claims violations of federal and state equal protection laws because Chicago's ordinance applies only to certain employers and industries. Building services, health care, hotels, manufacturing, restaurants, retail and warehouses services must abide by it, but not "construction, banking, finance, telecommunications, professional services, government, education, insurance, printing, and publishing, to name a few," the suit says.

The association represents building management in labor negotiations with unions representing janitorial, engineering and security service workers. Its member buildings employ some 5,000 union workers.

"We didn't initially set out to file a lawsuit," the group said in a statement. "BOMA/Chicago voiced multiple objections to the ordinance on behalf of our members and even offered language during the legislative process. It became clear City Council was selectively targeting only certain industries with a standard that clearly favors one party over the other."

The trade group says the law should not apply to employees whose work under collective bargaining agreements.

The office of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in a statement, stood behind the ordinance, which was first introduced when Rahm Emanuel was mayor.

"Under the leadership of Mayor Lightfoot, Chicago has passed some of the most expansive scheduling legislation in the nation to help improve working conditions for tens of thousands of hard-working Chicagoans," spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in a statement. "While we can't comment on pending litigation, the administration is committed to ensuring a successful implementation of the Fair Workweek legislation next year as part of our commitment to better supporting working families across the city."

Chicago is among a growing group of cities to adopt fair workweek ordinances and is not the first to have it challenged in court. New York City, whose law requires employers to finalize work schedules at least three weeks in advance for fast food restaurants and three days in advance for retailers, was sued last year by the International Franchise Association, the New York State Restaurant Association, and the National Restaurant Association's legal arm, the Restaurant Law Center. They claim the city council lacks authority to enact a scheduling ordinance and should be preempted by state law. The case is pending.

Chicago's ordinance aimed to be the broadest in the country and was the first to cover health care employees. Initial versions were vehemently opposed by many in the business community that warned it would reduce flexibility valued by both employers and workers, but most groups dropped their opposition as certain compromises were reached in advance of the final vote.

A major compromise was to limit covered employees to those who make less than $26 an hour. Salaried employees making over $50,000 a year are also exempt.

The law applies only to employers with 100 or more employees, to nonprofits with more than 250 employees, to restaurants with at least 30 locations and 250 employees globally, and to franchisees with four or more locations. There are exemptions for employees who work at ticketed events.

A federal predictable scheduling ordinance recently was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts running for president, is expected to introduce a Senate version.

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