Pro-labor constitutional amendment in close race for voter approval

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Faculty members at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago participate in a union organizing rally in May. A proposed amendment to the state constitution would assure that workers have a “fundamental right” to organize for collective bargaining.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

An Illinois constitutional amendment guaranteeing workers’ right to unionize drew strong voter support Tuesday, but whether the measure becomes law could depend on a count of all ballots.

The Workers’ Rights Amendment, if adopted, would assure the right to collective bargaining while banning any right-to-work laws for the private sector. Right-to-work allows people to avoid union dues as a condition of employment.

The amendment would pass if it meets one of two tests: approval from at least 60% of those voting on the amendment, or from a majority of all persons voting in the election.

Statewide results showed the amendment favored by 60.3% of voters making a choice on the issue, with about 65% of precincts reporting. Amendment supporters said it appeared it would be backed by a majority of all voters.

“We feel good. We feel confident we will reach that 60% threshold,” said Joe Bowen, spokesman for the Vote Yes for Workers’ Rights campaign. “It will be a while to get a sense of the total turnout.”

Labor unions statewide support the measure. Union leaders were cautious about declaring victory Tuesday night, saying the issue might not be settled until all mailed ballots are counted. Under the Illinois rules, ballots with no vote cast on the amendment have the same effect as those cast against it.

Business groups such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce opposed the measure but spent campaign funds elsewhere. The public opposition was left to the right-wing Illinois Policy Institute, whose leaders had about $3 million for the effort, almost all of it from megadonor Richard Uihlein, CEO of Uline, a distributor of packaging material.

Labor organizations raised more than $13 million for the fight, which allowed for TV ads and traditional get-out-the-vote activities. The opposition used direct mail and internet advertising.

Supporters said the amendment would lock in worker rights if federal law ever backtracks on labor protections. They also said the amendment would make it easier to bargain on worker safety issues. Opponents said it would give unions too much power against employers, especially in government jobs, potentially raising property taxes.

Right-to-work laws apply to the private sector in 27 states. Government workers everywhere can skip union dues under a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The Illinois Constitution has been amended 14 times, most recently in 2016, when voters approved a measure banning legislators from diverting to other purposes money raised for transportation projects.

 

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November 8, 2022 at 10:55PM

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