Amendment on the November ballot in Illinois protects workers’ rights – The State Journal-Register

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Frank Manzo IV, executive director, Illinois Economic Policy Institute

At the center of former Governor Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” for Illinois was a proposal to model our labor laws after states like Iowa, Kentucky, and Alabama.

In these and 24 other states across the country, laws have been enacted to encourage workers whose wages, benefits, and working conditions are collectively bargained — to stop paying for the services they receive from labor unions. These “free rider” laws are designed to reduce the resources unions would otherwise have available to organize and support workers and have been a key factor in reducing the share of America’s workforce represented by unions — from one-in-three 50 years ago, to just one-in-10 today.

At the time, bipartisan majorities in the Illinois General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected Rauner’s “free rider” proposals. The Workers’ Rights Amendment on this year’s November ballot (which was also supported by a majority of Senate Republicans) would embed this consensus into the Illinois Constitution. 

What would this mean for Illinois workers and our economy? A recent study by the nonpartisan Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers some answers.

Researchers compared a variety of workforce and economic outcomes from Illinois against the 27 states that had already adopted the “free rider” approach.

Overwhelmingly, the data show that Illinois workers fare much better. On average, workers earn 15% higher incomes (more than $7,000 per year) and are 5% more likely to have health insurance coverage, They are also more likely to own their homes, less likely to live in poverty, and 32% less likely to lose their lives due to preventable accidents on-the-job.

Put another way, by passing the Workers’ Rights Amendment and preventing any future efforts to weaken collective bargaining, our state can protect an estimated $43 billion in earned income for workers, health insurance coverage for nearly 300,000 workers, and prevent as many as 90 on-the-job fatalities each year.

The economic impacts of protecting workers’ rights are not limited to workers alone. On average, the economies of “free rider” states grew 3% slower and their annual workforce productivity was 18% lower than states that support collective bargaining rights. The data also shows that collective bargaining is a good value for taxpayers because higher wages for workers translate to increased tax revenues and less reliance (and reduced government spending) on social safety net programs.

The proposal to guarantee collective bargaining rights in the Illinois Constitution does not exist in a vacuum. It comes in the wake of a deadly pandemic that brought new awareness to issues like workplace safety, access to health insurance, and workers’ access to paid leave to care for sick children or relatives. It comes as working families struggle with high inflation that reduces the value of their paychecks. It comes during an era that has produced both soaring income inequality and record corporate profits. And it comes at the end of a 50-year period that has seen historically high approvals for labor unions alongside a diminishing share of workers who are actually represented by unions.

More:Austin Tice has been missing for 10 years. President Biden, it’s time to bring him home.

Today, we are seeing the deep flaws in such a workplace power imbalance.   Unemployment is at historic lows and many employers say they are struggling to find workers. Millions have left their jobs in search of better job quality. Notably, in essential economic sectors such as construction, researchers have documented how union-affiliated employers are not facing nearly the same workforce supply and performance problems as the nonunion alternative.  Indeed, the research confirms that because of its support for labor rights, Illinois enjoys a competitive advantage in the market for workers to perform in-demand jobs.

Ultimately, real-world data shows that when states support collective bargaining, the economy does better and job quality is higher. Workers earn more,  are more likely to have health insurance, and are more likely to own their homes. It’s also better for public budgets, and the economic imperatives of higher growth, fewer labor shortages, more productivity and better safety outcomes on the job site. 

The proposed Workers’ Rights Amendment on the November 2022 ballot would only protect these superior outcomes for future generations of Illinois workers, businesses and taxpayers.

Frank Manzo IV is the executive director of the non-partisan Illinois Economic Policy Institute, www.illinoisepi.org

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August 18, 2022 at 06:53AM

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