Illinois to vote on historic, pro-union constitutional amendment

An exciting addition to the Illinois constitution could happen on Nov. 8. The “Workers Rights” Amendment, or Amendment 1, is the only statewide referendum on the ballot in the upcoming general election. The basic framework of the amendment enshrines the right to organize a union into the Illinois Constitution under Section 25. 

This amendment is the first of its kind in the country, prohibiting the state legislature from introducing so-called “right-to-work” bills. These anti-worker right-to-work laws already exist in 27 other states including all states that surround Illinois. The right to organize is considered “generally protected” under federal law. As we have seen from the extreme right-wing Supreme Court “generally protected” means not guaranteed. 

The case Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174 that is currently in front of the Supreme Court can have huge ramifications for all workers. Unions could potentially be sued for losses stemming from strikes, undermining the right to strike and bargain altogether. Amendment 1 aims to protect unions in Illinois from such attacks. 

Amendment 1 also expands the definition of who is allowed to organize a union in their workplace — for the first time including agricultural workers, independent contractors and public sector workers. We have seen through the historic victories and struggles of the Chicago Teachers Union that strikes and demands go beyond just wages. Allowing unions to fight for affordable housing, safety and more is a victory for all workers, even those not unionized. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, unionized work forces had better safety, more job stability and the ability to demand more from the bosses. The protection of speaking out about hazardous conditions and lack of protective gear allowed unions to make greater demands of employers. Throughout the pandemic, Black and Brown workers have been disproportionately impacted with workplace-related death and loss of work. All workers deserve the basic right to organize and form unions for better protections. The Workers Rights Amendment expands on this and more. 

Unions do more than just provide better wages, they help to bridge the wage gap between white and Black workers. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Unions and collective bargaining help shrink the Black-white wage gap, due to the dual facts that Black workers are more likely than white workers to be represented by a union and Black workers who are in unions get a larger boost to wages from being in a union than white workers do.”

The workers represented by labor unions earn 10.2% higher wages than their non-union peers, have better benefits and collectively raise wages industrywide, according to a report released by the House and Senate committees.

Although Illinois has a strong pro-union history, former Governor Bruce Rauner tried to introduce a “right to work” bill into the Illinois state legislature in 2015. The democratic-led legislature passed a bill in 2017 banning “right to work” zones throughout the state, then Governor Rauner vetoed the bill. In 2019, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a new bill banning “right-to-work” zones throughout the state, setting the stage for the introduction of the text for Amendment 1. 

In 2021, the Democratic-led state legislature signed off on the measure to be placed on the November 2022 ballot. To be ratified, the proposed constitutional amendment needs a 60% vote of support.

The text of the amendment is as follows:

SECTION 25. WORKERS’ RIGHTS (a) Employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work. No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and work place safety, including any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or application of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.

Ana Santoyo, a candidate for City Council in the 45th Ward of Chicago, told Liberation News, “We have already seen an explosion of unionization throughout the service industry, like Starbucks and Colectivo coffee workers. Enshrining workers’ rights to unionize and bargain must be seen as vital for our class to be able to struggle for a world that gives us the right to livable wages, health, housing and more! The inclusion of all workers with Amendment 1 is already a huge victory.”

The Workers Rights Amendment is supported by the Associated Firefighters of Illinois, Chicago Laborers District Council, Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois AFL-CIO, Illinois Pipe Trades Association and SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana. 

While an important step forward, the amendment would not fundamentally alter the current relationship between workers and business owners. And while the amendment itself would not provide the right to union representation for workers, it does codify the right to collective bargaining and prevents legislation that currently undermines unions and bargaining in the 27 right-to-work states.

Illinois: vote ‘YES’ for Amendment 1 on Nov. 8!

Feature photo: AFSCME workers protesting for a fair contract outside the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library in Chicago, Oct. 27. Liberation photo

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