Workers’ rights amendment supporters declare victory — but other side not ready to concede

The Associated Press reports that with about 99% of the votes counted, support for the amendment was at 58.1%, still shy of the 60% that would ensure passage.

SHARE Workers’ rights amendment supporters declare victory — but other side not ready to concede
A group of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 1 union members picket outside the Chicago Nabisco plant in the Marquette Park neighborhood in 2021.

Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 1 union members picket outside the Chicago Nabisco plant in Marquette Park in 2021.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

Six days after the final vote was cast, a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing collective bargaining rights inched close enough to passage Monday that its supporters declared victory.

“Yes for Workers’ Rights!” Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted.

But opponents insist it might take another three weeks to know which side has reason to pop the champagne corks.

Joining the governor in claiming victory on Monday were the Democratic Party of Illinois, labor unions and organizers behind the proposed amendment — which would add protections for workers seeking to unionize and stop Illinois from becoming a “right-to-work” state.

But the Illinois Policy Institute, a right-leaning think tank that helped lead the fight against the amendment, wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.

The Associated Press has not claimed victory for either side, but the news organization reported that with about 99% of the votes counted, support for the amendment was at 58.1% compared to 41.8% in opposition.

That’s short of the 60% that would ensure its passage.

But the amendment has another pathway to success: winning a simple majority of all persons voting in the election. 

The problem is AP does not track the total number of votes cast, and the Illinois State Board of Elections said it would not determine the total number of ballots cast in the election until it certifies official totals Dec. 5. 

But the Vote Yes for Workers’ Rights campaign insists it has won. So does the Illinois AFL-CIO. And the Democratic Party of Illinois called it a “historic victory” for workers and working families. 

Starbucks workers strike outside the coffeehouse Tuesday in the Edgewater neighborhood in August.

Starbucks workers strike outside the coffeehouse in the Edgewater neighborhood in August.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

“This is a historic amendment that protects the freedom for Illinois workers to come together and bargain collectively for things like higher wages, more safety protections on the job, better training,” said Jake Lewis, a spokesman for the workers’ rights campaign. “And it will also protect Illinois workers from any anti-worker politician now or in the future who seeks to undercut those 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.

Business groups opposed the amendment but left most of the fight to the Illinois Policy Institute. Conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein gave $2 million to oppose the amendment. 

Illinois Policy Institute Chairman John Tillman (left); Lake Forest businessman Dick Uihlein (right).

Illinois Policy Institute Chairman John Tillman (from left) and Lake Forest businessman Dick Uihlein.

Facebook; Sun-Times file

Matt Paprocki, president of the Illinois Policy Institute, said in a statement that it’s clear the amendment failed to reach the 60% voter approval threshold. 

“That means Illinois has to wait for the final vote count to come in to determine whether the amendment passes with a simple majority of those who voted in the election,” Paprocki said.

Opponents argue the term “economic welfare” in the amendment could give union workers too much flexibility when it comes to going on strike, although state laws set conditions under which teachers unions can strike, such as having tried mediation without success. 

“We could see more families abruptly out of school as government workers negotiate contracts and go on strike over broad new terms like affordable housing. And parents would be powerless to stop it,” Paprocki said. “The cost of those contracts would then be passed on to taxpayers, and the threat of tax hikes is real.”

Striking Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters walk the picket line outside Urban Prep Charter Academy For Young Men’s Englewood campus last year.

Striking Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters walk the picket line outside Urban Prep Charter Academy For Young Men’s Englewood campus last year.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Proponents deny claims that the amendment will cost Illinois taxpayers more.

“That argument was rejected by voters because it is not true. The workers’ rights amendment is about protecting the freedom for workers to organize,” Lewis said.

“And the research shows that when workers have more rights, their wages go up. They spend it in their communities. It’s a boost for the economy, and they are less reliant on government services. So they actually cost public budgets less.”

The Latest
“It was a long week,” Kenwood senior Calvin Robins Jr. said. “Nobody believes in us, but that doesn’t matter because everyone in that [locker room] does.”
Loyce Wright, 43, was inside the Family Dollar at 5410 W. Chicago Ave. about 1:40 p.m. when a person walked up to him and fired shots, Chicago police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.
McMichael’s body responded well to medication for MRSA.
It began in 1970 with the death of Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell, a colorful old school downstate pol known for cutting deals that benefited southern Illinois — and himself. And the long tawdry saga could soon see its final chapter with the expected sale of a country home in Vienna, Ill.