At the Illinois vote summit this fall, voters will be asked whether Illinois should incorporate the right of workers to unionize and bargain collectively into the state constitution, a proposal advocated by organized labor to prevent future labor law laws but oppose this anti-union. groups that fight for it will raise taxes and give unions unprecedented power.

Known as “workers’ rights amendment” by supporters and “amendment 1” by opponents, the voter ratification proposal that would give workers a “basic right” to organize follows the failure of former one-day Republican governor Bruce Rauner years ago to try to curb union power which led to an unprecedented two-year stalemate in the state budget.

And while supporters and opponents disagree too much, they agree that if ratified, the proposed amendment could pave a new direction for organized work not only in Illinois but across the country.

“It is possible that if the unions win here, it will become the future of the workers movement,” said Mailee Smith, director of labor policy at the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, who opposes the amendment.

“It would be the strongest constitutional protection in the state’s constitution in the country,” said Marc Poulos, advisor to the “Vote Yes to Worker Rights” campaign committee and executive director of the Indiana, Illinois, Iowa Fair Contracting Foundation.

This battle is the latest proxy fight between Republicans and Democrats for efforts to amend the Illinois constitution, and has already generated significant fundraising, especially by workers.

The campaign committee “Vote for yes” rose more than $ 13 million, most of it from union building, while the “Vote No Amendment 1” committee founded by Illinois Policy Institute leaders raised $ 1 million, all from conservative mega-donator and businessman Richard Uihlein. The CEO of packer and shipping company Uline has already spent more than $ 40 million this year on political campaigns in Illinois and supports Republican Darren Bailey as governor.

While the dollars raised are remarkable, they pale in comparison to the more than $ 124 million raised two years ago by groups for and against a proposed change to the Illinois constitution that would shift the state from flat-rate income tax to progressive income tax. rate system. This amendment proposal, endorsed by Democratic Governor JB Pritzker, was unsuccessful.

The current proposed amendment goes further than the laws in New York, Missouri and Hawaii, three states that have constitutional amendments giving workers the right to organize and bargain collectively.

The proposed Illinois amendment would guarantee not only the right to organize the most common elements of collective bargaining, such as wages, hours and working conditions, but also for “economic welfare and job security.”

It would also, in principle, prohibit so-called labor laws or regulations that prohibit companies and unions from agreeing on a union membership requirement as a condition of employment. Right to work laws weaken trade unions by allowing workers to avoid paying unions’ fair share fees – money spent on non-political union costs for activities such as collective bargaining.

The right to work spread across 27 states, including all Illinois border states except Missouri, where voters rejected a proposed bill in that state in a 2018 referendum. These regulations only apply to private employees. The US Supreme Court ruled in the 2018 case of Janus v AFSCME, headquartered in Illinois, that public workers should not pay a “fair share” to a union they did not want to join.

The “obvious effect” of the proposed amendment to the November 8 vote in Illinois would be to block future lawmakers from enacting labor law or other laws that undermine the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers, Martin Malin said. who founded the Institute of Law and Workplace at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

If judges interpret the phrase “economic good” widely, the proposed amendment could also benefit public workers, although federal labor law would likely prevent such extensions for many, if not all, private workers, said Malin, who was appointed by President Joe Biden to federal office. a panel that resolves a deadlock in collective bargaining between federal agencies and unions.

Supporters and opponents of the proposed changes disagreed on how the law might affect workers.

The amendment would protect workers’ rights from ideological changes in the legislature, said Illinois AFL-CIO president Tim Drea.

“We take workplace security, wages and economic stability and put these rights in a locker and keep politicians from getting into them,” said Drea, who chaired the “Vote Yes” committee.

It was deliberately designed to apply to all workers, Poulos said, adding that it would include workers’ “insights” that did not protect many private workers have ever been overruled by federal courts or legislators.

But Smith argued that part of the amendment, which guarantees the fundamental right to organize and collective bargaining, would not apply to private workers because the National Labor Relations Act already covers these workers. This amendment would give public unions more power to demand more, she said.

“This will increase the cost of the government, and that cost will be passed on to the taxpayers.”

The proposed amendment would become part of the constitution if approved by 60% of the voters on the matter or a majority of voters in the elections.

Some Republicans in the General Assembly joined Democrats last year to get a measure of the vote, highlighting how much the political winds have changed since Rauner was governor, when more GOP MPs followed suit helping to finance their political campaigns.

Lincolnshire enacted a work permit plan in the Chicago suburbs in 2015. Two years later, a federal judge ruled that only states could enact such laws. In 2019, Pritzker signed an act prohibiting local governments from creating work zones.

Although Pritzker did not play any formal role in obtaining the amendment to the ballot paper and donated the money to the ‘Vote Yes’ committee, he made support for organized work the theme of his re-election campaign.

“We need to get the union to organize constitutional law and stop republican efforts to eliminate collective bargaining,” he said, accepting the support of the Chicago branch of the International Workers’ Union of North America on Monday.

Although some Republican lawmakers backed the measure, the Illinois Policy Institute and its affiliate legal service, the Liberty Justice Center, sued for the amendment to be removed from the vote. They argued that this would be prevented by federal law and that voting on the amendment would waste taxpayers’ money. A Sangamon County judge dismissed the lawsuit in May, and the appeals court judge agreed.

Part of the amendment is clearly in line with federal labor law, Malin said.

“The national law on labor relations clearly leaves the question of the right to work in any state,” he said.

The workers have no power other than the legislators, said Poulos of the Vote Yes campaign. He sees the proposed amendment as a rebalancing that would protect people “in the same place where they spend almost all their lives”.

If the proposed amendment passes, Illinois will become “the No. 1 state in worker protection,” Poulos said. Strong workers’ rights would help the state compete for labor in hard-to-fill areas such as nursing, education and the police, he added.

This amendment will make the state extremely anti-business, said Todd Maisch, president and general manager of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. Lots of nearby states that can compete for business have the right to work, he said.

“This is a terrible message to send to the rest of the nation,” Maisch said.

It provides some immediate effects if the fix goes through. The right to work laws are unlikely to be passed in Illinois any time soon, he said.

“But if it’s been in the constitution for 10 years, there is an open invitation for labor lawyers to take the language and use it to their absolute limits,” added Maisch.

If successful, the proposal may not be unique for a long time. European Union approval in America has risen rapidly to 71%, a level not seen since 1965, according to a Gallup poll in late August. According to research by Robert Bruno, professor of labor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Frank Manzo, director of the Illinois Economic Association, the total number of union workers in Chicago and Illinois increased last year for the first time since 2017 at the Institute of Politics.

The new labor rights amendment proposal could serve as a roadmap for the labor movement in other states. If the right to work spread across the country, a labor rights amendment could, too, said Drea of ​​the Illinois AFL-CIO.

“Workers in other states – they may be allowed to work – will say,” You know what, I should have this, “he said.

jsheridan@chicagotribune.com

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