The Historic Workers’ Rights Amendment on the Ballot in Illinois

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The Historic Workers’ Rights Amendment on the Ballot in Illinois

In November, Illinois voters will have the chance to enshrine collective bargaining rights into their constitution and IBEW members across the state are hard at work getting out the vote.

“This is the most important piece of legislation that Illinois locals have ever had the chance to get passed,” said Chicago Local 134 Business Manager and International Executive Council member Don Finn.

The Workers’ Rights Amendment, championed by labor groups across the state, would guarantee the fundamental right of workers to unionize and collectively bargain, and prevent the passage of 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, 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.”

Hawaii, Missouri and New York have similar collective bargaining rights guarantees in their constitutions, but none have the added language, as Amendment 1 does, that would ban right-to-work laws.

“This is our chance at passing what is essentially a once in a generation opportunity,” said Sixth District International Representative Shad Etchason.

With such a game-changing issue on the ballot, IBEW members have been working day and night to get out the yes vote. Hundreds of volunteers from Local 134 alone have been phone banking nearly every day and knocking on thousands of doors to spread the word on how this will help their brothers and sisters, not to mention working people as a whole. IBEW halls have also been the sites of numerous rallies and meetings, as well as trainings.

“Everybody knows this is all hands on deck,” Finn said. “It’s been a heavy lift, but we’re all rolling up our sleeves to get it done.”

The amendment even has bipartisan support. According to Illinois law, a proposed amendment has to go through the state legislature before being put to the voters on Election Day, and it passed both chambers with support from Democrats as well as Republicans.

“That was very surprising,” Finn said. “It probably has to do with how the issue is worded, which is in a way that all working people, with or without a union card, can support. It’s basically asking, ‘Do you support workers’ rights?’ Who’s against that? It’s about ensuring that all workers have a voice on the job, and that’s something the public can get behind.”

Illinois has a long and proud union history, and pro-worker majorities in its legislature, but as the previous anti-union governor demonstrated, elections have consequences and laws can be challenged. By securing collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, it provides an added layer of protection against any future anti-worker meddling.

“The WRA will remove the threat of anti-union politicians and special interests from taking away a worker’s freedom to join together and give real protection to IBEW livelihoods,” Etchason said.

According to a new study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, there are multiple reasons for voting yes on the measure. Their work looked at two decades’ worth of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies and found that, on a number of levels, union workers in the Land of Lincoln have better economic outcomes than nonunion workers.

Among the report’s findings is that Illinois union members earn 14% more than their nonunion counterparts and are 9% more likely to have health insurance coverage. Union members are also less likely to live below the poverty line and rely on Medicaid and are less likely to need government assistance like food stamps. They also contribute 8% more in state income taxes.

The study, released on Aug. 11, noted the impact of the amendment on essential workers like those in construction. According to the report’s findings, blue collar construction workers earn 35% more than their counterparts in states that do not support collective bargaining and are 12% more likely to own their homes.

The amendment also promotes safe workplaces. The study says it would save 900 lives over a decade because Illinois experiences 32% fewer on-the-job fatalities than states that do not support collective bargaining.

If passed, Finn and Etchason say they’re hopeful that it will lead to similar action in other states.

“I’ve been contacted by business managers across the country on how we got this amendment,” Finn said. “Hopefully we can set the table for the entire country to get one passed.”

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