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Illinois Voters Pass Workers’ Rights Amendment

On December 5, 2022, the Illinois State Board of Elections certified the November election results in favor of adding the proposed Amendment 1 to the Illinois State Constitution.  It is now a constitutionally protected right for workers in Illinois to organize and bargain collectively for the purposes of negotiating wages, hours, or working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work, effectively making Illinois the first state to constitutionally block right-to-work laws.  Fundamentally, the passing of Amendment 1 symbolizes an expansion to workers’ rights and their ability to advocate for better economic and working conditions. 

Illinois made history this November as voters approved Amendment 1, a ballot measure reaffirming workers’ rights to unionize and bargain and prohibiting laws that would bar workplace contracts from requiring union membership as a condition of employment (“right-to-work” laws).  The amendment needed either 60% of votes cast on the ballot measure itself or a simple majority of all those voting in the election.

The newly certified amendment specifies that employees have a “fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.”  Additionally, Amendment 1 prohibits any law that “interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively.” 

As an official ballot measure, there were official arguments in support of and opposing Amendment 1.  Those supporting Amendment 1, including the governor, several unions, and multiple state representatives, argued that the amendment will, among other things: protect workers’ and others’ safety through increased training and better access to safety equipment; prevent workers from being silenced and encourage them to speak out without fear of retaliation; put more money in workers’ pockets; and bolster the economy, communities, and small businesses as workers spend more.

Unofficially, supporters of Amendment 1 explained that the measure will counteract the efforts of lobbyists and politicians to undercut workers’ rights.  Supporters also argued that the amendment will encourage more people to enter the workforce, a needed development in the wake of the pandemic.  Additionally, proponents noted that falling unionization rates lower wages, citing real examples of states that limit collective bargaining and consequently see a decline in wages, benefits, training, and safety standards.

Opponents of Amendment 1 included the Illinois Policy Institute, the Republican Party of Illinois, the Chamber of Commerce, and numerous other state organizations.  Officially, the opposition asserted that the terms if the amendment are too broad and undefined, which will leave lawmakers unable to craft clarifying legislation.  Additionally, opponents emphasized that Amendment 1 will prohibit any law or ordinance that allows workers to choose whether they wish to be a member of a union.  The opponents argued that Amendment 1 could be revised to resemble laws in Hawaii, Missouri, and New York, which do not include any right-to-work language or limitations on what collective bargaining can address. 

Unofficially, opponents of Amendment 1 also claimed that the amendment would override 350 provisions related to schools.  Their opinion was that the amendment does nothing to create jobs and is actually a disguised tax referendum that would cost a typical family over $2,100 in additional property taxes within the next four years.

In an effort to block the proposal from being placed on the ballot, taxpayers sought to challenge the measure in court on the grounds that the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) governs private sector collective bargaining nationwide, and because Amendment 1 could regulate the same activity by establishing a state right to collective bargaining for private-sector employees, it is subject to preemption by the NLRA and in violation of the supremacy clause.  However, the Fourth District Appellate Court of Illinois was unconvinced by this argument and reaffirmed the Seventh Judicial Circuit’s decision that no reasonable grounds existed for the proposed taxpayer action because (1) Amendment 1 could have some valid applications that would not be subject to preemption, and (2) preemption could only render the amendment “dormant, not invalid.”  The case caption for the action is Sachen v. Illinois State Board of Elections, filed in Illinois State Court.

Despite the opponents’ efforts, the amendment appeared on the ballot this November and received approximately 58.4% of the popular vote.

The legal team at Miller Shah LLP has extensive experience representing employment matters.  If you have any questions regarding this subject or this post, please contact Chiharu Sekino (cgsekino@millershah.com), or Samantha Kielbania (sjkielbania@millershah.com).  The Firm can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.

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