SPRINGFIELD — A constitutional amendment that would guarantee workers in Illinois the right to unionize is heading to voters in 2022 after passing the Illinois House on Wednesday.
The proposed amendment, which passed the Senate last week, would provide that employees have a “fundamental right” to organize and engage in collective bargaining over wages, hours and working conditions. It would also prohibit the state or any local government from enacting so-called “right-to-work” laws, which prohibit contracts that make union membership a condition of employment.
State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, lead sponsor of the measure in the House, framed the vote as a choice between standing up for the rights of workers or the interests of business.
“Where do you stand when you look that working mother in your community in the eye, and do you want her to have collective bargaining,” he said. “Do you want her to have representation, or do you want to follow many other states as they continue a concerted effort to take away the rights of working men and women? You’ve got to make a decision.”
House Republicans had been given little advance notice that the measure would come up for a vote Wednesday, and as soon as it came up on the floor, they requested a one-hour recess so their caucus could meet and discuss strategy.
When they re-emerged, state Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, answered Evans’ challenge by touting his own working- class roots.
“I literally climbed off a pole barn into the General Assembly,” he said. “I represent a working-class district. I support unions and non-unions. But let’s recognize, unions don’t create jobs. Special-interest pandering may create campaign donations, but it doesn’t create jobs.”
But state Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, countered that collective bargaining generally leads to safer working conditions and better economic conditions for all workers, regardless of their union status.
“One of the most diabolical ways to limit collective bargaining is through so called right-to-work laws,” he said. “States that limit collective bargaining see declines in wages, benefits, training and safety standards. And it’s a losing proposition for all workers.”
Currently, 28 states, mainly in the South and Great Plains, have some form of right-to-work laws or constitutional amendments on theor books, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, including the border states of Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, noted that very few states have right-to-unionize amendments and warned of potential unforeseen consequences.
“When the state of Hawaii tried to actually make adjustments to a pay period, they actually got hauled into court by employees who said that that represented a diminishment in (and) interference with their collective-bargaining rights,” she said.
The amendment passed the House with bipartisan support, 80-30, which was more than the three-fifths majority required for a proposed amendment. It will be placed on the November 2022 general-election ballot, where it will need approval from three-fifths of all those voting on the question or a simple majority of all ballots cast to be ratified.