A union contract guarantees your job rights – wages, hours, overtime, grievance procedures and numerous other protections. But what if a politician could take your rights away?
As famed United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther (1907-1970) warned at the union’s 1970 convention, “There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.”
To protect workers’ basic rights from political interference, this November 8 Illinois voters can vote to ensure union rights within the Illinois constitution. The Workers’ Right Amendment (WRA) will be first on voters’ November 8 ballot, along with electing political officials.
The proposed amendment would add a new section to the Illinois Constitution’s Bill of Rights that would guarantee the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively and to negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions, and to promote worker economic welfare and safety at work. It would also prohibit any law that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively to win a union contract.
A constitutional amendment requires a sixty (60) percent favorable vote to win – a simple majority won’t do it. If Illinois voters meet the 60 percent approval threshold it will automatically join the Illinois constitution. If it wins Illinois becomes a national trend-setter, the first state to constitutionally guarantee workers’ union rights.
Why is this necessary? A quick historical survey and recent history shows that the right to organize and negotiate union contracts was a hard-fought battle.
A little history
It took U.S. workers almost a century to win organizing rights. Early unions organized and sought better conditions. Workers’ striking and protesting often confronted a swinging police billyclub or a company guard’s bullet. Despite these odds workers continued to organize, often secretly, to demand decent wages and safe conditions.
Workers’ outcries finally reached Capitol Hill. In 1926 the Railway Labor Act gave transportation workers the legal right to organize a union. 1934 saw a massive strike wave with violent battles in city streets across the nation. Congress passed the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it, which gave private sector workers the right to vote for union representation and mandated companies negotiate. Thanks to that legislation and workers’ pent-up demands, workers by the millions joined union between 1936-1939.
The Labor Act only included private sector workers, excluding public employees, farm workers and domestic workers. Public employee rights became a state by state initiative. Illinois finally recognized public employee (teachers, fire fighters, city workers, police) right to organize in 1983 and 1985. Farm workers only have organizing rights in one state, California.
Recent history – Bruce Rauner
When anti-union Bruce Rauner won Illinois’ governor seat in 2016, he immediately attacked workers’ rights. Wage and other violation cases piled up at the Illinois Department of Labor with no action. Rauner proposed what were basically non-union zones in low income areas, saying this would stimulate jobs and economic opportunity. Many viewed this as a pretext to eventually transform the state. He asked county boards and city councils to pass resolutions supporting his agenda, an effort that collapsed as union members by the thousands jammed local government meetings.
Rauner was a wake-up call. The Illinois House and Senate thwarted his efforts. A look at neighboring states Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri coldly demonstrated what an anti-union Governor with a favorable legislature could do it labor laws, overnight destroying long-fought union rights.
To ensure workers’ rights within the state constitution is going to require a super-majority. To win that, Illinois unions and worker advocates are promoting a “me plus three” strategy. If every union member can convince three other voters to mark “yes” on the ballot, the initiative should win. This will not only benefit union members, but all working people by protecting their basic rights.
“The Workers’ Rights Amendment means stronger protections for working people at a time when they need it most,” said Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea. “All workers will benefit from these protections, ensuring that Illinois will never join the race to the bottom on wages and workplace safety protections.”
The Illinois AFL-CIO, affiliated unions, the Illinois Democratic Party and other community and civic organizations have endorsed the amendment.