Proposed “Workers’ Rights Amendment”

June 17, 2022

This November a proposed constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in Illinois. Illinois Constitutional Amendment 11 has been labeled the “Workers’ Rights Amendment,” which, according to its supporters, would establish the fundamental right for workers to collectively bargain and unionize along with banning right-to-work laws in the state of Illinois.

Those in favor of the proposed amendment argue that by allowing collective bargaining agreements for workers, it would pave the way to solid, middle-class jobs and a rising economy.  Moreover, those in favor believe that the proposed amendment would allow workers the right to collectively bargain their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions regarding workplace safety and would prohibit right-to-work laws in the state of Illinois.

Proponents of the amendment cite a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which they argue found that Illinois workers and the state’s economy have higher growth than surrounding states with right-to-work laws. Right-to-work laws are on the books in twenty-seven states, including Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These laws do not require workers to join the labor union of their respective field to either get or keep a job. Critics of right-to-work laws argue that such laws weaken workers’ opportunities to win increases in wage, health and retirement benefits, and workplace safety standards and significantly weaken collective bargaining power. Enacting the proposed amendment would not only ensure the right to collective bargaining power, but it also strengthens the ban for right-to-work laws.

On the other hand, those who disagree with the proposed amendment have filed a lawsuit seeking to remove the amendment from the ballot, arguing that the proposed amendment would conflict with federal labor laws and that Illinois does not have the authority to propose such a broad labor law within its Constitution. Specifically, the lawsuit argues that the proposed amendment would guarantee workers’ fundamental rights which are already applicable in the current negotiation tactics for union contracts. The proposed amendment would provide the right to collectively bargain for wages, hours, and working conditions – all of which are already present. However, the amendment would overstep and extend to protecting workers’ economic welfare. Sachen v. Illinois State Board of Elections, et. al., argues that this provision is outside the scope of federal labor law.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) would conflict with the proposed amendment due to its breadth, which jeopardizes the amendment’s Constitutionality. The vague language of the proposed amendment does not provide whether it would apply to public or private workers – or both. Workers in the private sector must resolve their complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). However, this Act would group private sector employees with public sector employees and allow their complaints to be taken to the state Labor Relations Board, creating an uneven playing field to both employees and employers.

Those opposed to the amendment believe that it is better to remove it from the ballot now rather than jeopardize it being enacted and seeing costly litigation from employers due to the conflicting state and federal law.

If you have question or concerns regarding Illinois’s proposed Workers’ Rights Amendment and how it may impact you and your business, please contact the attorneys at Rock Fusco & Connelly.