Pass Workers’ Rights Amendment to protect collective bargaining rights

As we build a stronger and more focused labor movement, it’s important we keep our foot on the gas.

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Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, speaks as home care workers represented by the Service Employees International Union rally in Federal Plaza for expanding access to union jobs on July 13, 2021.

Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, speaks as home care workers represented by the Service Employees International Union rally in Federal Plaza for expanding access to union jobs on July 13, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Labor Day has a special place in the heart and history of Chicago, the hometown of the American labor movement. Like so many battles in the labor movement, the roots of Labor Day are planted firmly in Chicago.

Near the turn of the 19th century, the call from labor groups for a designated holiday for the working class grew louder and louder. The Haymarket Affair and the Pullman Strike directly led to the creation of the modern Labor Day holiday.

Labor Day is as much about honoring the lives of the workers who gave their lives in defense of the rights and benefits we have today as it is about recognizing the fight that still lies ahead.

This year, Labor Day comes at a time when workers are riding a wave of activism that is building worker power from coast to coast. Just this past month here in Chicago, workers voted to form unions at cannabis dispensaries, coffee shops and more. Workers demanded fair wages and respect by going on strike, showing big corporations they are not afraid to walk off the job and fight for their rights. In the face of corporate greed, workers are standing up for themselves and demanding change.

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These actions are led by some of the 500,000 rank-and-file members that make up the Chicago Federation of Labor’s 300 affiliate unions. Workers are realizing how important they are to the economy, as well as the leverage they possess. Over the past two years, many organizations praised workers of all kinds for being “essential” and “heroes,” yet failed to treat them as such. This kind of lip service has led workers to demand better pay, safer working conditions and stronger benefits.

While public opinion of unions is at its highest in decades, attacks on workers have escalated to new levels. Corporations that put profits over people have no shame in revealing who they really are through their heartless union busting, illegal bargaining tactics and divisive political attacks. Make no mistake about it, these forces are just wolves in sheep’s clothing. The right to organize and collectively bargain is square in the crosshairs of these anti-worker forces.

We will not let that happen here in Illinois. We fought and sent the biggest anti-worker administration we have ever seen in the governor’s office packing four years ago. Now we are on the offensive. This November, it is critically important we keep the pressure on by showing labor’s strength at the ballot box — because workers are on the ballot.

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The Workers’ Rights Amendment will be the first question on the ballot. A “yes” vote means you are voting to enshrine workers’ rights into our Illinois Constitution and become the state with the most robust protections for workers in this country. The Workers’ Rights Amendment will safeguard the ability to organize and collectively bargain, guaranteeing every Illinois worker has access to a safe workplace.

As we build a stronger and more focused labor movement, it’s important we keep our foot on the gas. We must continue to organize for better pay, better working conditions and better contracts. If history has taught us anything, workers’ rights are a continuous struggle, and the only way to win that struggle is to stand up and never back down.

Robert G. Reiter is president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, the third-largest central labor council of the AFL-CIO.

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