The heart of labor is beating strong in Chicago and Illinois

On this International Workers Day, we’re committed to fighting for a better future for all workers in our city and state, two labor leaders write.

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Employees of Rise Dispensary located at 9621 N. Milwaukee Ave. grab picket signs from a vehicle after walking off the job and going on strike, Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Niles, Ill. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Employees of Rise Dispensary located at 9621 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Niles grab picket signs from a vehicle after walking off the job and going on strike, on April 19, 2023.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

On Monday we celebrate May Day, also known as International Workers Day, a holiday forged by the Haymarket Affair that took place right here in Chicago in 1886. May Day is a moment to reflect on the vital role that the labor movement in Chicago and Illinois have played — and continue to play — in the battle for economic and social justice.

We are facing unprecedented challenges, including income inequality, job insecurity and the erosion of collective bargaining rights, but we remain committed to fighting for a better future for all workers in our city and our state.

Just as it was in the 19th century, Chicago and Illinois are the beating heart of the American labor movement in the 21st century.

One of the most important ways that the labor movement in Illinois is making an impact in the 21st century is through our efforts to organize workers in both new and existing industries. This includes workers in the gig economy, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, as well as cultural workers in our museums and workers in the emerging cannabis industry.

The first-ever coordinated strike in the cannabis industry happened recently when union bud tenders at three dispensaries in the Chicago region walked out.

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By organizing these workers, we are able to raise their wages, improve their working conditions and give them a voice in decisions that affect their lives.

Saving worker protections with Workers’ Rights Amendment

In addition to organizing workers in new industries, the labor movement in Illinois is also working to defend the gains that we have won over the years, most notably by passing the Workers’ Rights Amendment last year. This safeguards against attempts to weaken collective bargaining rights and to roll back worker protections, such as workplace safety regulations.

The Workers’ Rights Amendment blueprint is currently being studied by states like Pennsylvania, while our Midwestern neighbors in Michigan just repealed their so-called “right-to-work” law. These gains have been hard-won over generations and we will never stop fighting to protect them.

Just as Jane Addams and Hull House wove labor rights together with racial and civil rights in the early 20th century, the modern Chicago and Illinois labor movement continues to fight for social justice today. We recognize that the struggles of workers are deeply intertwined with the struggles of communities of color, immigrants, and other marginalized groups.

Both the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Illinois AFL-CIO work closely with civil rights, immigrant rights and women’s rights groups to advocate for a more inclusive and equitable society that supports and protects all people.

Illinois is also at the forefront of the fight for increasing the minimum wage, providing paid sick leave and enacting predictive scheduling laws that apply to all workers, union or not. These issues resonate with workers from all backgrounds, as they are fundamental demands for basic job protections and dignity. The labor movement in Illinois has been instrumental in pushing for these important reforms at the city, county and state levels, and we will continue to fight until all workers in our state are paid a decent wage with basic scheduling and sick leave protections.

Finally, the labor movement in Illinois is also playing a crucial role in the fight against climate change by passing legislation like the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. We know that the transition to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible economy will require massive investments in clean energy, infrastructure and green jobs. By advocating for policies that support this transition, we can ensure that workers in Illinois are at the forefront of this historic transformation.

Again and again, our city and our state forge a path for workers’ rights for the rest of the nation. By organizing, defending our gains, fighting for social justice and addressing the urgent challenge of climate change, we can create a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

The labor movement in Chicago and Illinois has a proud history of leading the fight for workers’ rights, and we can and will continue to build on that legacy — especially with a union activist as incoming mayor and labor allies across every level of government. Together, we can build a better future for all workers in Illinois and around the world

Bob Reiter is the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. Tim Drea is the president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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