Workers’ rights amendment has an edge, but the outcome could be close

Union leaders and supporters believe the measure will get a majority of all votes cast in Tuesday’s election.

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Union workers form a picket line outside the Nabisco plant at 7300 S. Kedzie Ave. in 2021. A proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution guaranteeing collective bargaining rights appears close to passing.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A state constitutional amendment guaranteeing collective bargaining rights appeared close to passage Wednesday, and labor unions that backed the measure claimed victory.

But the margin was tight enough that voters’ final verdict may depend on results being certified from all 102 counties in Illinois.

Amending the Illinois Constitution is complicated. To pass, a proposed amendment must get approval from at least 60% of those voting on it, or from a majority of all persons voting in the election. The amendment has fallen short of the 60% standard but appears to be clearing the majority-of-all-voters standard.

Returns from the Associated Press, which estimated it has received 91% of votes cast, show the amendment being favored by 1.948 million voters. AP does not track the total number of votes cast, but it shows that 3.874 million votes were cast in the governor’s race.

If the total votes cast is close to that number, the amendment would have the majority needed to pass. However, some people may have cast a ballot without voting for governor.

Joe Bowen, spokesman for the Vote Yes for Workers’ Rights campaign, said it gathered more complete data than the AP’s. He said the campaign’s numbers show the amendment getting almost 53% of all votes in the election.

The issue could be unsettled for a while. Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said it would not determine the total number of votes in the election until it certifies official totals Dec. 5.

Labor leaders backing the campaign proclaimed victory in statements early Wednesday. Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said voters clearly said that “Illinois is and always will be a workers’ rights state.”

Business groups opposed the amendment but left most of the fight to the Illinois Policy Institute, a right-wing research group. Mailee Smith, its staff attorney and director of labor policy, said the vote was too close to call.

Smith said that if the amendment passes, “I would expect to see litigation from the private sector because this is clearly a violation of its rights.”

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

Of those voting “yes” or ‘”no” on the amendment, AP’s data show 58.5% supporting it, short of the 60% needed under that standard.

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