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Illinois voters appear to support the Workers’ Rights Amendment.

Heading into the election, Illinois voters are supporting an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that could chart a new direction for organized labor not just in the state but across the country.

When counting 43% of the state’s polling stations, the amendment was supported by 63.7% of votes against 36.3% according to unofficial calculations. It takes more than a simple yes or no vote to pass a constitutional amendment.

It needs either 60% support among those voting directly on the issue or more than 50% support among those voting in the election.

“We are now on the way to passing. It will depend on what the voter turnout looks like, but now we’ve crossed the threshold that needs to be crossed,” said Joe Bowen, director of communications for Vote Workers’ Rights. “I expect that to change in the next hour or two when they count more votes, but we feel very good where we are.”

An Illinois union group pushed the measure to the ballot asking whether Illinois should enshrine workers’ right to unionize and bargain collectively in the state constitution, a proposal supported by organized labor to defeat future right-to-work laws but opposed anti-union groups who argue it will raise taxes and give unions unprecedented power.

Known as the “Workers’ Rights Amendment” by supporters and “Amendment 1” by opponents, the voter-ratified proposal that gives workers a “fundamental right” to organize is the brainchild of former one-term Republican governor Bruce Rauner. attempts years ago to curb union power led to an unprecedented two-year state budget impasse.

“Union bosses and special interest lobbyists have spent more than $15 million spreading the disingenuous message that Amendment 1 is about improving ‘workers’ rights’ at no additional cost to taxpayers,” said Matt Paprocki, president of the Illinois Policy Institute. “It was really about enshrining expensive new provisions in the constitution that could handcuff taxpayers for years to come.”

The commission of the campaign “Vote for” raised more than $16 million, most of which came from unionization, while the Vote No Amendment 1 committee, founded by the leaders of the Illinois Policy Institute, raised a small fraction of that amount, almost all of it from conservative megadonor and businessman Richard Weiline. The CEO of packaging and shipping firm Uline has spent tens of millions on political campaigns in Illinois this year, particularly in support of Republican Darren Bailey for governor.

While the dollars raised are notable, they pale in comparison to the more than $124 million raised two years ago by groups for and against proposed changes to the Illinois Constitution that would have the state switched from a flat rate of income tax to a graduated rate system. This amendment, supported by Democratic Governor JB Pritzker, failed.

Illinois’ proposed amendment would guarantee not only the right to organize for the most common elements of collective bargaining, such as wages, hours and working conditions, but also for “economic welfare and safety at work.”

It would also essentially ban so-called right-to-work laws or ordinances that prohibit companies and unions from agreeing to require union membership as a condition of employment. Right-to-work laws disempower unions by allowing workers to avoid paying unions their “fair share,” money used to cover the non-political costs of unions for actions like collective bargaining.

Right-to-work laws have spread to 27 states, including all states bordering Illinois except Missouri, where voters rejected the state’s proposed law in the 2018 referendum. These laws only apply to private workers. US Supreme Court led in 2018 in Illinois Janus v. AFSCME The point is that government workers don’t have to pay their “fair share” of dues to a union they don’t want to join.

The current proposed amendment goes further than laws in New York, Missouri and Hawaii, three states that have constitutional amendments that grant workers the right to organize and bargain collectively.

“If we succeed, it will be the first time voters have added constitutional protections to collective bargaining through a ballot,” Bowen said. “Voting for workers’ rights ensures that no politician in the future can take those rights away.”

Critics said the amendment would make the state overwhelmingly anti-business and said the vote was a waste of money regardless of whether it passed because right-to-work laws are unlikely to pass in politically Democratic Illinois anytime soon.

“It will demonstrate once again that Illinois is once again standing out from the rest of the Midwest in terms of whether we are a business-friendly environment,” said Illinois Chamber of Commerce Leader Todd Maisch. “It will make it very clear that Illinois should be avoided at almost all costs.”

Maisch said the language for Amendment 1 is a concern.

“The first three or four lines, where we are talking about economic well-being and the constitutional right to negotiate about economic well-being and security, can be greatly expanded,” Maish said. “All it takes is one union and one enterprising lawyer to stretch these definitions beyond recognition.”

Bowen said he’s confident in the results based on the enthusiasm he’s seen from voters.

“I was actually walking to lunch today and saw someone with an ‘I Voted’ sticker and asked if they voted for the workers’ rights amendment,” Bowen said. “They told me, ‘Yes I did, it was first on the ballot,’ and that’s how I knew they were telling me the truth.”

Bowen said interacting with voters before Election Day was a reassuring experience.

“There’s a lot of excitement, and it’s not something you just hear walking down the street here in Chicago,” Bowen said. “The excitement in Peoria, the excitement in Springfield, and to be a part of that is great.”

Mark Pulos, an adviser to the Vote for Workers’ Rights campaign committee and executive director of the Fair Contracting Foundation of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, told the Tribune he was pleased with the effort to get the message across, although he said supporters of the measure could have spent more money. than they are.

“We’ve been on TV literally weeks in a row,” Poulos said. “We have a digital program, a texting program, a ground game that we’ve been playing for a few weeks, so I think we’ve done everything right.”

Labor expert Martin Mullin said the passage of the workers’ rights amendment would raise many questions about how the amendment would be implemented.

“At the end of the day, Illinois courts will have to interpret that language,” Mullin said. “If that happens, there will be a lot of implementation questions that will probably be resolved over the next five, maybe even 10 years.”

Jacob Sheridan of the Chicago Tribune contributed.


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