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Workers Rights Constitutional Amendment

January 12, 2020

This November, the nation will be voting in what is likely to be a momentous general election. On this day, Illinoisans will also be taking part in a momentous vote of their own. For one, Governor Pritzker proposed a “fair tax” amendment to the constitution that, if passed by referendum, will change Illinois’ flat tax system to one in which those who earn more, will be taxed more. This will likely not be the only constitutional amendment Illinois voters will see on their ballot.

Additionally, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 37 (HJRCA 37) will put the “Workers’ Rights Amendment” on the 2020 general election ballot, giving voters the opportunity to ban so-called right to work (RTW) laws permanently.

Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947, allows states to pass RTW laws that prevent unions from collecting dues from workers they represent by prohibiting “union security clauses” from being included in collective bargaining agreements negotiated between unions and employers.

A union security clause requires all workers in a bargaining unit to pay at least a fair share fee, if not full union dues, in exchange for the benefits they receive from union representation. When a state invokes 14(b) RTW laws, such clauses are outlawed and fair share fees are merely optional, thereby allowing some workers to freeload on the contributions of others.

The reason a union must still provide representation to these non-payers, including bargaining for wages and benefits and negotiating certain contract terms, is because federal law imparts a “duty of fair representation” onto unions through Supreme Court interpretation.

The Workers’ Rights Amendment will prevent Illinois from enacting a RTW law, thereby ensuring that unions in Illinois are not unfairly financially starved. Moreover, the Amendment will allow private parties to voluntarily choose to negotiate terms in a free market setting while keeping economic power in the hands of workers. Specifically, the Amendment prevents Illinois from passing a law “that prohibits the ability of workers to join together and collectively bargain over wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment through a representative of their choosing …”

RTW laws have been enacted in 27 states and studies are clear that such laws have negative consequences, including lower pay, less retirement security, less educational assistance, less health insurance, more dependence on public aid, and more poverty.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has put working people in the spotlight, we need to make sure workers have the pay, benefits, resources, and protections they deserve. The Workers’ Rights Amendment is a major step in that direction.