Illinois unions push for Workers’ Rights Amendment during Labor Day celebrations

Published: Sep. 5, 2022 at 5:00 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Labor Day dates back to the 1894 Pullman strike in Chicago. If historians fast-forward 128 years, they will find Illinois labor leaders pushing for a workers’ rights amendment to the state’s constitution.

Illinois lawmakers approved this proposal in May of 2021, and many labor organizations were out teaching people about the amendment during celebrations Monday.

Unions across the state hope people will support a new section to the state’s Bill of Rights guaranteeing workers the fundamental right to organize and collectively bargain. The proposed amendment states no law can be passed to interfere with, negate, or diminish the rights of employees to organize and advocate for better wages, hours or other conditions of employment.

“Worker safety and economic security is a fundamental right of all workers from domestic workers to PHDs,” said Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea. “Everybody deserves a safe workplace and economic security.”

Drea is leading the Vote Yes For Workers’ Rights political action committee that has already received $12 million from supporters. Workers in the Decatur Labor Day parade Monday said this vote is critical.

“A lot of our collective bargaining has to do with the safety of our members and also the community,” said Paul Higar Jr, the 3rd Battalion Steward for the Decatur Fire Fighters.

Some people like USW Local 838 President Kenny Grandon have seen several family members participate in unions over many years. Grandon said this vote for workers’ rights is for them.

“It would make me proud to have a voice for them who have retired and gone on,” Grandon said.

You may remember that former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wanted Illinois to become a “right-to-work” state. That would allow people to choose whether or not to join a union in their workplace. Many argue that those laws take away important rights for workers on the frontlines each day.

“Progressive states in the past have passed laws that prohibit collective bargaining and prohibit workers from coming together and joining together with one voice,” Drea said. “We don’t want to see that happen in Illinois.”

Springfield ironworker Brian Baskett agrees with Drea. The Secretary-Treasurer of Ironworkers Local 46 stressed that Illinois can’t step back in time.

“We don’t want to go back and revert back to the old ways where people had to die on the job sites and safety factors of working too many hours,” Baskett said. “So, we want to be able to support ourselves if we are working more hours.”

Drea said having constitutional protection will make it much harder to regress on what union members fought many years to secure.

“We think that workers’ rights, workers’ safety, workers’ economic stability is best left in the constitution,” Drea added.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Manufacturers’ Association are against the amendment. However, Drea noted that the vast majority of working-class men and women want workers’ rights enshrined in the constitution.

Gov. JB Pritzker, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, and other constitutional officers have rallied with union members in support of the amendment over the past few months. Pritzker spoke during a Labor Day picnic in East Moline and tweeted a message to supporters Monday.

“To all the hardworking Illinoisans that have fought for fair wages and better workplaces, thank you for your advocacy,” Pritzker said. “You have uplifted every worker and continue to move our state forward.”

Sen. Darren Bailey, the Republican nominee for governor, marched in the Naperville Labor Day parade with his supporters. The downstate farmer also tweeted a message to recognize the holiday.

“Thank you to the hardworking men and women across Illinois,” Bailey said.

Bailey was one of seven senators to vote against the constitutional amendment on May 21, 2021. A significant number of his Republican colleagues supported the initiative.

The constitutional amendment will need support from 60% of voters this fall to become enacted.

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