The Senate advances a draft constitutional amendment on unionization
On Friday, the Illinois Senate passed and sent to the House a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a fundamental right of employees to organize and bargain collectively.
Sen. Ram villivalam, D-Chicago, main sponsor of measurement in the Senate, said the amendment is a response to the relatively stagnant wages that most workers have seen since the 1970s, when union membership nationwide began to decline.
“The drop in union density has lowered wages, not only because some workers no longer receive the higher union pay, but also because there is less pressure on non-union employers to increase wages,” did he declare. “The ability of unions to set labor standards has diminished.”
The proposed amendment would add a section to the Illinois Constitutional Bill of Rights declaring: “Employees have the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their choice in order to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions, and to protect their economic well-being and safety at work.”
He would go on to say that no law could be passed to diminish the rights of workers to organize, including any state law or local ordinance “which prohibits the execution or enforcement of agreements between employers and workers’ organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment. “
This is a reference to the so-called “right to work” laws which began to proliferate after World War II and which prohibit any agreement requiring union membership as a condition of employment.
Currently, 28 states have some form of right to work laws or constitutional amendments underway, depending on the National Foundation for the Legal Defense of the Right to Work, including the neighboring states of Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
In 2015, the village of Lincolnshire attempted to pass a local Right to Work Ordinance, but it was later struck down by a federal court, which said only state governments could pass such laws. Two years later, the General Assembly passed a union-backed bill to prevent local governments from establishing right-to-work zones, but the government of the day vetoed it. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, and an attempt to override that veto failed with one voice in the House.
In 2019, however, lawmakers passed another such bill and it was enacted by Democratic Governor JB Pritzker.
During discussion of the measure on Friday, Villivalam said it would have minimal impact on workers in the private sector because the national labor relations law governs organization and collective bargaining in the private sector. He said the intention was to protect the right to collective bargaining that is already established under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act.
The measure – the Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 11 – was passed by the Senate by a vote of 49 to 7, with 11 Republicans joining Democrats in backing it. It is now going to the House where it will need a three-fifths majority, or 71 votes, to pass. If so, it will be up to Illinois voters to approve in the November 2022 general election.
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