Illinois legislators voted to enshrine collective bargaining rights into the state’s constitution, sending the issue to voters via ballot initiative for the 2022 elections. Photo credit: Shaun Greiner via Flickr

Illinois voters will have the chance to more permanently ban right-to-work laws when they go to the polls next year.

“Voters in Illinois know what most working people across the country know, that right-to-work laws are wrong. They’re bad for workers and bad for the economy,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who began his career and remains a member of Rock Island, Ill., Local 145. “This is a chance to enshrine the true rights of working people into the state constitution and say once and for all that every employee deserves a voice on the job and the right to bargain collectively.”

The Workers’ Rights Amendment would establish a new section in the Illinois Bill of Rights that would limit the power of the General Assembly, state, or any local government to pass a law that restricts or prohibits collective bargaining over wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment, including private sector workers’ rights to contract for union security agreements.

The amendment passed both the state House and Senate with bipartisan support in May. Since this type of legislation doesn’t require a governor’s signature, the next step is for the issue to go before voters via ballot, which will happen in November 2022. It will need approval from three-fifths of all those voting on the question, or a simple majority of all ballots cast in the election, to be ratified, reported Capitol News Illinois.

Despite mountains of evidence demonstrating their many shortcomings, right-to-work laws have proliferated across the U.S. The laws, largely championed by anti-union businesses and their allies, allow employees to access the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without having to pay any fees for them. Consequently, union budgets are starved, weakening their bargaining power.

Currently, 27 states have these nefariously named laws on the books, including neighboring states Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. According to a new study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois fares significantly better for having avoided this pitfall.

Among the findings, when compared to right-to-work states, Illinois workers’ have a 6% higher annual income, are 5% more likely to have health insurance coverage, are 3% more likely to own their homes and are 4% more likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Worker poverty is also lower. Illinoisans also have 32% fewer on-the-job fatalities.

“The data shows that the states that are most effective at building middle-class jobs and delivering economic growth are those that support workers’ rights and collective bargaining,” wrote study authors Frank Manzo and Robert Bruno. “This suggests that passing the proposed Workers’ Rights Amendment would promote good jobs, safe workplaces, and a strong economy for the people of Illinois.”

An earlier study from ILEPI found that there are 31% fewer registered apprentices in right-to-work states and that economic productivity is 17% lower per worker.

“Over the past year, we’ve come to rely on many of our hourly workers as essential frontline heroes who have more than earned the right to bargain for fair wages and safe working conditions,” wrote Marc Poulos, executive director and counsel of the Indiana, Illinois and Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, a labor-management organization, in an op-ed for the Chicago Sun Times. “So-called right-to-work laws are designed to chip away at this principle. And the data shows that they not only have shortchanged workers, but they have proven to be fundamentally bad economic policy.”

Earlier this year, both New Hampshire and Montana legislators voted against right-to-work in their respective states. And the Missouri General Assembly is once again considering its own right-to-work law, despite Show Me State voters overwhelmingly rejecting such a measure in 2018.

At the federal level, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act would do away with right-to-work laws altogether, among numerous other worker protections. The PRO Act passed the House earlier this year, and has the support of President Joe Biden, but has stalled in the Senate.