What the Proposed Illinois Workers Rights Amendment Means for Your Company    

Bhavya Pathak

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024

November 8, 2022 marks the day Illinois constituents vote for midterm elections. That is if they have not already sent in early ballots. On the ballot this year, voters will see a proposed amendment that would add a new section to the Bill of Rights Article of the Illinois Constitution that would guarantee workers the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively, and negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions. This post breaks down this new amendment, looks at the greater political debate, and analyzes how it affects Illinois businesses.

Breaking down the proposed amendment  

Illinois Amendment 1, more commonly known as “Workers’ Rights Amendment”, is on the ballot for midterm elections in Illinois. The proposed amendment is intended to allow workers to unionize and negotiate better pay, improved benefits, and safe working conditions. The amendment would add a new section to the Bill of Rights Article of the Illinois Constitution and would largely affect labor and skilled workers like those in construction. State representative Marcus Evans (D-33) sponsored the amendment and states that the amendment would prohibit a right-to-work law in Illinois. Right-to-work laws prohibit labor unions and employers from entering into contracts that only employ unionized workers.

The Amendment itself states that it would guarantee workers the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively, and negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions. It also promotes economic welfare and safety at work and prohibits any law from being passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain or negotiate. Essentially this will give rights back to workers and prevents the government from creating laws against workers who want to advocate for their working conditions without the fear of retaliation from their employer.

On November 8th, 2022, constituents of Illinois will vote at the general election on if this amendment should become part of the Illinois constitution. As of 2022, three state constitutions provide a right to collective bargaining: Hawaii, Missouri, and New York. However, this proposed amendment will allow Illinois to become the first state to allow collective bargaining and preempt right-to-work laws that prohibit collective bargaining agreements that require union membership.

The grand debate

Despite the initial appeal of this amendment to support workers rights, the matter has become quite politicized. Proponents of this amendment include several key democrats in the state such as Representative Marcus Evans, Lance Yednock and Governor JB Pritzker himself. Meanwhile, those who tend to oppose the amendment are vastly republicans. Labor unions undeniably support this amendment, while industry and trade groups like the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business are against the amendment.

Supporters of the amendment say it is needed to respond to the corporate powers diminishing individual employee rights. This amendment is also an opportunity to allow workers to take control of their rights and fight for safer, healthier, and more adequate wage and work conditions. Professor Robert Bruno of University of Illinois along with Frank Manzo IV, the executive director for the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, reported to WBEZ Chicago that Illinois workers would see a boost in wages based on a study by University of Illinois and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. Labor workers like construction workers, teachers, first responders, and police officers are paid higher wages in Illinois compared to other states. The data from the study showed that the proposed amendment would “protect Illinois’ competitive advantage for essential workers.”  Tim Drea, head of the AFL-CIO says this amendment would be a game changer for essential workers who spend a majority of their lives at work.

Those against the amendment say this proposal would send the message to potential investors that union workers are more of a priority than creating jobs in the state. These naysayers also state that increasing wages and appeasing demands of union workers will not be good for the economy. However, supporters of the amendment counter this point by stating that when workers are doing well for themselves and are comfortable with their wages, they are more likely to purchase stocks, eat at local restaurants, and keep the economy running. Some right-leaning leaders also argue that allowing more rights to union workers could mean that more teachers and essential workers would go on strike which would not benefit society.

How this amendment affects Illinois companies

Without this proposed amendment, Illinois employers can require employees to be a part of a union as a condition of their employment. If this proposed amendment becomes constitutionalized, then companies will no longer be allowed to require individual workers to be a part of a union and cannot interfere with an employee’s workers’ rights.

This amendment largely affects industries in the public sector since national laws still take precedent over state laws. If unions in the private sector attempt to bring up issues of workers rights, there’s a chance that the issues will need to be resolved through litigation. This would result in time and money on behalf of a company and this financial burden could be passed on to taxpayers.

Democrats argue that overall, despite the critics for this proposed amendment and the fear of economic destruction from certain industries, the amendment should not affect a large majority of employers. The aim of the amendment is to protect workers rights and give them their power back.

Overall, despite the hesitation from companies, this amendment should not affect Illinois companies drastically. The likelihood of union workers striking in masses or negotiating hefty wages or demanding extreme differences in working conditions is low. It is also in the best interest of employers to cater to such needs to ensure that its companies public image is intact.