Collective Bargaining Amendment Brings National Labor Struggle to Illinois Ballot

Atop ballots across Illinois this fall, voters will be asked whether Illinois should enshrine in the state constitution the right of workers to unionize and bargain collectively, a union-backed proposal to preempt future right to housing laws. work, but which anti-unionists oppose. groups that argue it will raise taxes and give unions unprecedented power.

Known as the “Workers Rights Amendment” by supporters and “Amendment 1” by opponents, the voter ratification proposal that would give workers a “fundamental right” to organize is an outgrowth of the failed proposal by former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. attempts to rein in union power years ago that led to an unprecedented two-year state budget stalemate.

And while supporters and opponents disagree on much, they do agree that, if ratified, the proposed amendment could chart a new direction for organized labor not just in Illinois, but across the country.

“It’s possible that if the unions win here, it will become the future of the labor movement,” said Mailee Smith, director of labor policy at the conservative Illinois Institute of Policy, which opposes the amendment.

“This would be the strongest constitutional protection in a state constitution in the country,” said Marc Poulos, adviser to the “Vote Yes for Workers Rights” campaign committee and executive director of the Fair Hiring Foundation of Indiana, Illinois. , Iowa.

The battle is the latest power struggle between Republicans and Democrats over efforts to change the Illinois Constitution and has already generated significant fundraising, especially from labor.

The “Vota Sí” campaign committee has raised more than $13 million, much of it from union building, while the “Vote No on Amendment 1” committee founded by leaders of the Illinois Institute of Politics has raised $1 million, all from conservative mega-donor and businessman Richard Uihlein. The CEO of packing and shipping company Uline has already spent more than $40 million this year on political campaigns in Illinois and is endorsing Republican Darren Bailey for governor.

While the dollars raised are notable, they pale in comparison to the more than $124 million raised two years ago by groups for and against a proposed change to the Illinois Constitution that would have changed status from a flat rate income tax to a graduated rate system. That proposed amendment, backed by Democratic Governor JB Pritzker, failed.

The current proposed amendment goes beyond the laws of New York, Missouri and Hawaii, three states that have constitutional amendments giving workers the right to organize and bargain collectively.

Illinois’ proposed amendment would guarantee not only the right to organize for the most common elements of collective bargaining, such as wages, hours, and working conditions, but also for “economic well-being and safety on the job.”

Basically, it would also ban so-called right-to-work laws or ordinances, which prohibit companies and unions from agreeing to require union membership as a condition of employment. Right-to-work laws disempower unions by allowing workers to avoid paying “fair share” fees to unions—money used for non-political union costs for actions like collective bargaining.

Right to work laws have been extended to 27 states, including all states bordering Illinois except Missouri, where voters rejected that state’s proposed law in a 2018 referendum. Those laws only affect private workers. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2018 in Janus, based in Illinois against AFSCME case that public workers shouldn’t have to pay “fair share” dues to a union they don’t want to join.

The “clear effect” of the proposed amendment change on the Nov. 8 ballot in Illinois would be to prevent future lawmakers from enacting right-to-work laws or passing other laws that weaken public employees’ collective bargaining rights, Martin said. Malin, who founded the Law and Workplace Institute at Chicago-Kent Law School.

If the justices interpret the phrase “economic well-being” broadly, the proposed amendment could also benefit public workers, though federal labor laws would likely prevent such expansions for many, if not all, private workers, said Malin, whom he met. President Joe Biden appointed to a federal position. panel that resolves collective bargaining impasses between federal agencies and unions.

Supporters and opponents of the proposed changes disagree on how the law could affect workers.

The amendment would protect workers’ rights from ideological shifts in legislative bodies, said Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea.

“We’re taking workplace safety, wages and economic stability, and putting those rights in a safe deposit box and preventing politicians from taking advantage of them,” said Drea, who chairs the “Vote Yes” committee.

It was intentionally drafted to apply to all workers, Poulos said, adding that it would cover “herds” of workers not already protected by federal or state law, such as farmworkers and independent contractors, and would also function as a support if the federal laws that protect many private workers were ever struck down by federal courts or legislators.

But Smith argued that the part of the amendment guaranteeing the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively would not apply to private workers because the National Labor Relations Act already covers those workers. The amendment would give public worker unions greater power to demand more, he said.

“It’s going to increase the cost of government, and that cost will be passed on to taxpayers.”

The proposed amendment would become part of the constitution if it is approved by 60% of those who vote on the issue or by a majority of those who vote in the election.

Some Republicans in the General Assembly joined Democrats last year to put the measure on the ballota development that underscored how much the political winds have changed since Rauner was governor, when more Republican lawmakers followed suit as he helped finance their political campaigns.

lincolnshire approved a right to work plan specific to the Chicago suburb in 2015. A federal judge ruled two years later that only states can enact such laws. Pritzker in 2019 signed a bill into law prohibit local governments from establishing areas with the right to work.

While Pritzker played no formal role in getting the amendment on the ballot and has not donated money to the Vote Yes committee, he has made support for organized labor a theme of his re-election campaign.

“We need to make union organizing a constitutional right and stop Republican efforts to eliminate collective bargaining,” he said as he accepted the endorsement Monday from the Chicago branch of the Workers’ International Union of North America.

Although some Republican lawmakers backed the measure, the Illinois Policy Institute and its allied legal service, the Liberty Justice Center, sued to have the amendment removed from the ballot. They argued that it would be superseded by federal law and that a vote on the amendment would waste taxpayer money. A Sangamon County judge dismissed the lawsuit in May, and an appeals court judge agreed.

Parts of the amendment are clearly consistent with federal labor laws, Malin said.

“The National Labor Relations Act expressly leaves the question of right to work laws to each state,” he said.

Workers have no power outside of lawmakers, said Poulos of the “Vote Yes” campaign. He sees the proposed amendment as a rebalancing that would protect people “in the same place where they spend most of their lives.”

If the proposed amendment passes, Illinois would become “the number one state for protecting workers,” Poulos said. Strong workers’ rights would help the state compete for labor in hard-to-fill fields like nursing, teaching and policing, he added.

The amendment would make the state especially anti-business, said Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. Many nearby states that might be competing for business have right-to-work laws, he said.

“It’s a terrible message to send to the rest of the nation,” Maisch said.

He anticipates few immediate impacts if the amendment passes. Right-to-work laws are unlikely to pass in Illinois any time soon, he said.

“But if this is in the constitution for 10 years, there is an open invitation for employment lawyers to take the language and push it to the absolute limits,” Maisch added.

If approved, the proposal may not be unique for long. Union approval across the United States rose rapidly to 71%, a level not seen since 1965, a Gallup poll from late August showed. The total number of unionized employees in Chicago and Illinois grew last year for the first time since 2017, according to research by Robert Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Frank Manzo, director of Illinois Economic Economics, funded by unions. Policy Institute.

The new proposed Workers’ Rights Amendment could serve as a roadmap for the labor movement in other states. If the right to work spreads across the country, a workers’ rights amendment could too, said Drea of ​​the Illinois AFL-CIO.

“Workers in other states, they might be in right-to-work states, they’re going to say, ‘You know what, I should have that,’” he said.

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