The voters of Illinois sent a clear message in the mid-term elections: Illinois is and will always be a workers’ rights state. Illinoisans came out in support of the Workers’ Rights Amendment on Tuesday, November 8. With more than two million votes in favor, the Illinois constitution will be amended to guarantee workers’ rights to bargain collectively.
The top-of-the-ballot measure asked whether to establish a constitutional right for all Illinois employees to organize and bargain collectively for wages, hours, benefits, and workplace safety. The amendment is a preemptive measure that will prevent a “right-to-work” law from ever passing in Illinois. “Right-to-work” laws allow workers to free ride and take all the services and benefits of collective bargaining – such as higher wages, better health care, and legal representation – without paying anything for them. “Right-to-work” laws have been passed in 27 states, including every Illinois border state except Missouri, where voters rejected that state’s proposed law in a 2018 referendum.
This victory is a historic moment for Illinois workers and the state. The Workers’ Rights Amendment goes further than laws in New York, Missouri, and Hawaii, where constitutional amendments granting workers the right to organize and collectively bargain are currently in place. The Illinois measure is the first time voters in the U.S. have added a constitutional protection for collective bargaining through a vote.
The WRA safeguards current labor laws in Illinois, while also opening the door for expanding subjects of collective bargaining. Although the amendment cannot supersede federal labor law, it can fill in gaps by guaranteeing organizing and bargaining rights to workers who are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, such as independent contractors, agricultural workers, and supervisory employees.
With the passage of the Workers’ Rights Amendment, Illinois remains a state with some of the strongest labor protections for workers.
With the passing of the WRA, the fundamental right to collectively bargain will be a constitutionally protected right in Illinois just like other constitutionally protected rights under the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, Second Amendment right to bear arms, or the Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure. Illinoisans took it upon themselves to vote for their own workplace protections so no politician in the future can take these rights away. The main point of the WRA is to be a forward-thinking safeguard in case either the Supreme Court, Congress, or any politicians take actions to erode workplace rights in the future.
From workers across the nation fighting for better wages to address high inflation to workers protesting unsafe working conditions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, now was the crucial time to address workers’ rights in Illinois. Labor took a proactive approach and did not wait for the sky to fall when it comes to protecting workers’ rights in Illinois. From day one, the Workers’ Rights Amendment was based on the simple idea that every Illinois worker deserves better. Better pay, stronger benefits, and safer workplaces do not just help workers thrive, but they strengthen Illinois and keep everyone safe. We know that the best way to kickstart the economy and help families deal with rising costs is to put more money in their pockets. The passage of the Workers’ Rights Amendment now protects every Illinoisans’ right to join with their coworkers to negotiate for pay raises for generations to come.
We at the Indiana, Illinois, Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting (III FFC) are excited to celebrate this incredible victory for workers and the state’s economy. We know that protecting these fundamental rights will only strengthen Illinois’ highly productive workforce and grow the state’s economy past the $1 trillion mark it recently met. We will continue to fight for policies that support workers and the economies of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.
From the Fall/Winter 2022 Issue of The Monitor