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Workers’ Rights Amendment to Illinois’ Constitution

June 1, 2021

In November of 2022, Illinoisans will be voting to elevate workers’ rights to a constitutional level. Voters will weigh in on whether the state’s constitution should be amended to include a provision that will establish fundamental rights for workers to collectively bargain and unionize. The amendment would effectively ban so-called “right-to-work” laws in Illinois.

The Workers’ Rights Amendment – also known as House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 34 and Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 11 – would prevent Illinois from ever passing a state law or local ordinance “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 workplace safety.” This amendment would ensure that workers across the state have the freedom to collectively bargain so their voices are more powerful.

Anywhere from 19 to 22 states across the nation have proposed “right-to-work” laws each year between 2013 and 2017, including Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Currently, 27 states have these laws. Illinois does not have a “right-to-work” law on the books, and data shows that Illinois workers and the state’s economy have fared better as a result.

May 2021 report from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that “right-to-work” states are worse at building middle-class jobs and delivering economic growth.  According to data, Illinois workers earn higher wages, are more likely to have health insurance coverage, have higher rates of homeownership, and are more productive than their counterparts in the 27 states with “right-to-work” laws.  These findings accounted for factors such as cost of living, occupation, race and gender, and wages and income.

Research continues to show us that collective bargaining offers workers solid pathways into good, middle-class jobs. Construction workers and signatory contractors certainly know this, and voters and elected officials are coming around to understand this even more. In 2018, Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected a “right-to-work” law. Additionally, Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia recently admitted that “right-to-work” failed in West Virginia and that the policy has not been a magic bullet for attracting businesses and jobs.

Just last week, a bi-partisan majority in the Illinois General Assembly passed the Workers’ Rights Amendment on to allow voters to decide whether Illinois should ban “right-to-work” permanently. As the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted working people, 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. “Right-to-work” is not only harmful to working families, but it’s also bad economic policy.

By passing the Workers’ Rights Amendment in November of 2022, Illinoisans can ensure the hard-working people of Illinois have access to good, family-sustaining jobs at a time when Illinois and the nation are in dire need of both.