Illinois legislators approve proposal to ask voters if workers should have a ‘fundamental right’ to organize under the state constitution

·3 min read

The Illinois House gave final approval Wednesday to a proposal asking voters to enshrine a “fundamental right” to unionism and collective bargaining in the state constitution, a Democratic slap at departed anti-union GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and a move that could boost labor turnout for the party in next year’s midterm elections.

The proposed constitutional amendment, to be placed on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot, was approved in the House on an 80-30 vote, with nine Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the change.

The measure also had bipartisan support when approved in the Senate last week, a sign of how drastically the politic of labor have shifted since the years of partisan gridlock under Rauner, a wealthy one-term governor who also was a significant funder of GOP legislative candidates.

The proposed amendment would become part of the constitution if approved by 60% of those voting on the question or a majority of those casting a ballot in the election.

Under the proposal, employees would have a “fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively” over wages, hours, working and safety conditions, and their economic welfare. It would ban any law or local ordinance that interferes or diminishes with the right to collectively bargain.

It also would effectively ban “right-to-work” laws or ordinances that prohibit employer-labor union agreements that require union membership as a condition of employment.

State Rep. Marcus Evans of Chicago, a member of Democratic leadership, hailed the proposal as a response to other states that have sought to diminish unionization through right-to-work laws.

“Workers’ rights will be prioritized and not just in this General Assembly, but we will bake it (in) and we will make it permanent in the Constitution of the state of Illinois for our children for generations to come,” Evans said.

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But pro-business Republicans contended the proposal was a Democratic sop to union allies and a “special interest boondoggle” that would hurt job creation.

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, a Republican from Downstate Beecher City, said Illinois could develop “a strong economy with real long term viability that has respect, respect for the balance of power between labor and job creators, and an environment that attract investments.”

“Right now, that dynamic is way out of balance. This permanent power grab pushes that balance off the cliff forever,” Wilhour said. “This legislation is unnecessary. It gives job creators more reasons to not invest in job creation in Illinois.”

Organized labor long had strong supporters on both sides of the aisle in Springfield, but Rauner made weakening unions — particularly those representing public employees — the cornerstone of his failed “turnaround agenda.” His efforts to pass that agenda contributed to a record two-year impasse with the Democratic-controlled legislature that left the state without an enacted budget.

Rauner scored a victory when his allies went to the U.S. Supreme Court and justices struck down so-called fair share fees public employees were required to pay even when they chose not to join the union bargaining for their contracts.

The one-term Republican vetoed a measure that would have prohibited local governments from creating right-to-work zones. Pritzker signed a similar measure into law in his first months in office.

The proposal will appear on the ballot along with candidates that likely will include Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is expected to seek a second term in 2022.