Op-ed: Labor Day is a chance to commit to supporting the workers’ rights amendment – The State Journal-Register

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Labor Day is always a special time in Illinois, a moment to pause and reflect on the gains made by workers – while also recognizing the challenges we all still face on the job.

It’s clear that working people in our state and our nation have faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. While wages are flat for so many, inflation is forcing up prices on everything from gas to rent to groceries. And as workers are paying more out of their pockets, big corporations are posting record profits, asking workers to do more with less while the corporations do less with a lot more.

Here in Illinois, the labor movement has secured some big wins for workers despite these unprecedented national challenges. We’ve done that by focusing on what really matters: the workers that make this state great. We’ve raised the state minimum wage, passed legislation to make major infrastructure investments, and fought to make our workplaces safer.

Illinois, with our long history of supporting the labor movement, is a haven for workers in a sea of increasingly anti-worker states.

But this election season, we have a historic opportunity to enshrine our right to organize and bargain collectively with coworkers in our state constitution when we vote yes on the Workers’ Rights Amendment. Doing so would send a powerful message that Illinois is and always will be a workers’ rights state while protecting Illinoisans from the whims of any anti-worker politician that may come along in the future.

Protecting collective bargaining has benefits for everyone in our state. When we protect the right to organize, we’re putting more money into the pockets of working people. A recent study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that union construction workers, emergency responders like firefighters and registered nurses, and teachers earn anywhere from 5 to 35 percent more in Illinois compared to anti-worker states.

And those middle-class jobs are available to working people of all backgrounds across our state, no college degree necessary. Plus, collective bargaining raises wages for all workers, union or not. When pay goes up for union workers, non-union workers often see the benefits, as well as employers, compete with one another in a tight labor market.

For our first responders like firefighters, police officers, and nurses, the Workers’ Rights Amendment will protect their ability to collectively fight for better training and equipment on the job, keeping them safe while they keep our communities safe. These heroes know how to protect our communities, and when we strengthen their ability to collectively bargain, we protect their right to fight for the tools they need to get the job done.

The protections in the Workers’ Rights Amendment don’t just apply to emergency responders — they protect every worker’s ability to raise safety concerns at work without fear of retaliation. Think about our construction workers building roads and bridges across Illinois. They need to be able to raise safety issues they see at the worksite without worrying about their own job security. When we protect workers, we avoid the tragic failure we’ve seen in our infrastructure in other states.

When we vote yes on the Workers’ RIghts Amendment, we’re voting yes for better pay, safer workplaces, and stronger communities. It’s what every worker deserves, and it can’t wait.

Finally, a chance for working people to vote for themselves.

This Labor Day, I hope you’ll join me in committing to vote yes for the Workers’ Rights Amendment at the top of your ballot. Together, we’ll put workers first – where they belong.

Tim Drea is president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, representing nearly 900,000 workers across Illinois.

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September 1, 2022 at 08:44AM

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