Workers’ rights amendment wins place in Illinois Constitution

One week after the election, the Associated Press on Tuesday reported that the workers’ rights amendment was approved by more than 50% of all votes cast last week — securing its passage.

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Striking Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 members and their supporters rally at the Thompson Center 2019. 

Striking Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 members and their supporters rally at the Thompson Center in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Constitution is getting a new amendment, one that guarantees workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain for wages and other employment issues.

The Associated Press on Tuesday projected the labor union-backed amendment passed by achieving a simple majority of all votes cast across the state last week, one of two roads to passage.

A week ago, supporters of the workers’ rights amendment had declared victory as early as Election Night. And labor unions, the Democratic Party of Illinois and Gov. J.B. Pritzker also this week applauded passage of the amendment, which required either support from 60% of the voters weighing in on the question or a simple majority of all persons voting in the election.

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The measure succeeded on that latter pathway.

The AP reported Tuesday that the amendment was approved by more than 50% of all votes cast Nov. 8. Of those voting “yes” or ‘”no” on the amendment itself, AP’s data showed 58.4% supporting it.

The amendment assures that workers can unionize and bargain on a range of issues affecting economic welfare and safety. It also forbids right-to-work laws for the private sector, which allows people to avoid union dues as a condition of employment.

That’s something Democrats in Illinois want to ensure. There are 27 states with right-to-work laws. Kentucky was the last state to enact a right-to-work law, in 2017.

Striking Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 members rally on the picket line outside Oscar DePriest Elementary School on the West Side in 2019.

Striking Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 members rally on the picket line outside Oscar DePriest Elementary School on the West Side in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Despite the AP call, Illinois Policy Institute President Matt Paprocki on Tuesday said he’s waiting for the Illinois State Board of Elections to certify the results Dec. 5, calling the board “the ultimate authority on this issue.” The right-leaning think tank helped lead the fight against the amendment.

A chief supporter of the measure, the Vote Yes for Workers’ Rights campaign, applauded its success in getting it passed.

“This historic amendment will protect the freedom for Illinois workers to organize and bargain collectively for better wages, stronger safety protections at work and more,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 ruled that states can’t force government workers to pay union fees. That ruling enraged Illinois unions, who banded together to ensure former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wouldn’t win a second term because of his role in the fight.

Rauner filed a lawsuit in 2015 asking a federal judge in Chicago to declare that nonmember union fees were unconstitutional. The courts ruled that Rauner didn’t have standing to bring the suit because he wasn’t required to pay union fees. Mark Janus, a state child support specialist, became a plaintiff for the case that ultimately made it to the Supreme Court.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership rates in Illinois have been above the U.S. average since 1989. Illinois had 752,000 union members in 2021. In addition to those members, another 66,000 wage and salary workers in Illinois were represented by a union or covered by an employee association or contract, while not being union members, the bureau reported.

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