My father took me to a summer picnic with his co-workers every year, not just for the food and fun but to nurture my respect for the unshakable bond that connected our families and helped keep us all safe and strong.
Dad and his co-workers watched each other’s backs on the factory floor and stood together to fight for decent wages, affordable health care and fair treatment on the job.
A strong labor union fueled this powerful solidarity, just as it does today for my co-workers and me and has the potential to do for generations of workers to come.
But we cannot take our hard-won labor freedoms for granted. It’s crucial that voters pass Amendment 1, the Workers’ Rights Amendment, in the Nov. 8 election to enshrine our collective bargaining rights in the Illinois Constitution, the state’s highest law, and safeguard our grandchildren’s opportunities to build better lives and more prosperous communities.
Unions fight discrimination and help narrow race- and gender-based pay gaps, a source of pride for my father and his diverse group of co-workers. Union members’ successful fights for paid sick leave and retirement security raise the overall well-being of their communities.
And today, union workers look out for one another in ways unknown in my father’s time.
Unions help workers attain the work-life balance crucial for physical and emotional health. They’ve taken a leading role in the fight against domestic violence, negotiating contracts with paid leave and other resources that help survivors break away from their abusers. Unions even provide the mental health resilience training and other tools that help workers and their communities weather natural disasters.
The union difference remains one of the most important lessons my dad taught me. I work at the same plant he did and followed in his footsteps as a United Steelworkers activist. Now, I’m further honoring his memory by advocating for Amendment 1, which will prevent greedy corporations from chipping away at our labor rights and turning back the clock on pay, benefits and safety.
Among other protections, Amendment 1 would prohibit legislators from passing deceptively named “right-to-work” laws that permit workers to enjoy the benefits of unions without paying for representation. These laws, relentlessly pushed by corporations, have no purpose except to gut unions and undercut the solidarity that’s the backbone of worker power.
Workers in states with right-to-work laws make significantly lower wages than their counterparts in other states. Without strong unions to empower workers, residents of right-to-work states experience greater poverty, higher infant mortality and lower life expectancy than people in the rest of the country.
These laws also have fueled huge increases in workplace fatality rates because they strip workers of the robust, united voice needed to fight for adequate equipment and safe working conditions.
Just a few years ago, a pro-corporation governor supported the creation of “right-to-work zones” that would have inflicted this kind of damage on parts of Illinois.
Unions, working people and other allies banded together to beat back those efforts. But without Amendment 1, Illinoisans will remain perpetually at risk of having right-to-work foisted on them.
It’s no coincidence that workers pushed to get Amendment 1 on the ballot this year.
Public support for organized labor has soared to record levels amid a pandemic that’s revealed more clearly than ever how much workers need the advantages and protections that unions help provide. Across the country, record numbers of Americans in a diverse range of workplaces and industries are forming unions to seize more control over their destinies.
Amendment 1 represents the will of the people. Passing it will ensure that workers today and well into the future have the freedom to build on the legacy my dad and so many other working Illinoisans left behind.
Edmund Carter is a member of United Steelworkers Local 9777 in Bridgeview.
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October 19, 2022 at 05:21PM