Insight

Understanding Illinois’ Workers’ Rights Amendment

Best Lawyers weighs in on Illinois' newly enacted Amendment 1, which sets to provide state workers with the right to collectively bargain and organize.

Figures standing on giant hand
GS

Gregory Sirico

December 16, 2022 12:00 AM

With the 2022 midterm elections now at a close, Illinois state residents, who had an opportunity to vote on a newly proposed workers’ right amendment known as Amendment 1, have successfully secured its passage by more than 50% of all votes cast during election week. This amendment will now add a workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain into the Illinois Constitution's Bill of Rights.

The newly added amendment reads as follows:

Employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, working conditions and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work. No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates or diminishes the right of employees, including any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or application of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.

This verbiage, which left many legal experts and lawyers alike questioning what exactly the amendment stands to accomplish, shares many similarities with a nearly 90-year-old piece of legislation. Passed in 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is already set in place to protect both union and private sector workers by helping them maintain their ability to organize and collectively bargain over wages, hours, conditions and any other workplace issues. On the flip side, the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act of 1984 holds the same provisions as the NLRA, only specifically geared toward protecting workers in the public sector.

While the now-amended legislation presents several unknowns, it remains evident that the amendment seeks to accomplish at least two major labor organization goals in Illinois. The first is the prevention of Illinois state from enacting any right-to-work laws on both local and state levels. The second aims to prevent lawmakers, at any level of government, from enacting laws or local ordinances that attempt to reform, alter, moderate or address public union benefits that have already been agreed upon.

Joe Bowen, an active member of the “Vote Yes for Worker Rights” group who’s spearheaded their advocacy campaign throughout the midterms, believes Amendment 1 will now protect Illinois-based workers for years to come. “There’s never been a more important time for us to guarantee these protections in the Illinois constitution because when you look at what’s happening nationally, our rights are under attack. Workers’ rights will put more money in the pockets of working Illinoisans, which will help those families and the communities where they live in,” stated Bowen, as reported by NBC Chicago.

Currently, 23 U.S. states don’t have right-to-work laws enacted, while the remaining 27 states do. To date, states such as New York, Hawaii, Missouri and now Illinois have already established the right to collective bargaining in their constitutions. The successful approval of Amendment 1 will now significantly set Illinois apart from any other state in one regard by making it the first state to enact an active ban on right-to-work laws. Additionally, under Amendment 1, workers in any publicly formed union are now permitted to negotiate over their right to strike and ask for what they want at the bargaining table, including police, fire and other public safety employees who cannot walk off their jobs. Moving forward, legal experts and state voters believe Amendment 1 will likely change the employment landscape in Illinois for years to come.

Headline Image: AdobeStock/Travel Drawn, Hurca!

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