Opinion

Essay: The Workers’ Rights Amendment Is a Historic Opportunity to Bring About a More Equitable Economy

Griffin Krueger | The PhoenixAt the top of this year’s ballot is Illinois Amendment 1, also known as the Workers’ Rights Amendment. If passed, it would enshrine the right to collectively bargain — negotiating working conditions, salaries and other working conditions between a group of employees and the employer — into the state constitution.

Illinois voters have a historic opportunity to ensure everyone has a guaranteed right to make their voice heard in the workplace. At the top of this year’s ballot is Illinois Amendment 1, also known as the Workers’ Rights Amendment. If passed, it would enshrine the right to collectively bargain — negotiating working conditions, salaries and other working conditions between a group of employees and the employer —  into the state constitution. In the interest of working people throughout Illinois, it is imperative to vote yes for workers’ rights Nov 8.

The amendment is a crucial step in creating an economy which works for all of us, not just the wealthy. It will add a new section to the Illinois Bill of Rights which states, “Employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.”

The amendment is especially pertinent in this time of uncertainty as we begin to emerge from the pandemic. Families across the country are still dealing with higher prices while our country’s biggest corporations continue to report record profits.

Unions are one of the best conduits for improving economic security and standard of living. Union workers in Illinois earn 14% more than their non-union counterparts and are 9% more likely to have health insurance than their non-union counterparts, according to a report by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (IEPI) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Center for American Progress found in 2019 that in comparison to non-union households, union households have more than double the median wealth. The average union household has $270,110 in assets whereas non-union households have a median wealth of just $120,184.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that while just 69% of non-union workers have access to health care coverage, 95% of union workers have health insurance.

The IEPI report also found the amendment would save over 900 lives over the next decade, as it would build upon Illinois’ current labor policies which help the state experience 32% fewer workplace fatalities compared to states which are less supportive of organized labor. 

We’ve seen the power unions have right here at Loyola University Chicago. In both 2022 and 2016, through collective bargaining, union workers in Loyola dining halls were able to secure higher pay raises and better health benefits than they originally received, The Phoenix reported. In 2018, members of Loyola’s non-tenure track faculty union were able to secure higher wages and increased job security after going on strike, The Phoenix reported.

An Aug. 30 Gallup poll says 71% of Americans approve of labor unions — the highest it’s been in decades. Recently, workers at Starbucks and Amazon have drawn attention for their organizing efforts in workplaces which have not traditionally been unionized in the face of resistance from their corporate employers. Voters have the opportunity to show up and show their support for the unionization efforts not only at Starbucks and Amazon but throughout the entire economy.

Not only would The Workers’ Rights Amendment benefit workers, but it would also reduce the burden placed upon taxpayers. With higher wages, union workers have more money they can return to their local economy and will have the ability to contribute more in income and property taxes. 

In addition, the IEPI study found union workers are 3% less likely to be on Medicaid, 2% less likely to qualify for food stamps and 2% less likely to receive income tax credits. Researchers at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics found union workers contribute $1,300 more per year to public balance sheets than their non-union counterparts.

Higher wages mean there is a smaller need for social service spending and opens up municipal budget space for other programs which will benefit everyone in the community. Unionization is good for workers, it’s good for local governments, it’s good for local businesses and it’s good for taxpayers. Despite the opposition of some companies, there is research which shows it’s good for even employers.

Union members are less likely to leave their jobs, according to The Brookings Institute. This benefits businesses as it improves employee retention and reduces turnover costs.

After the election, Illinois will be the first state in the union to have a guaranteed right to collectively bargain in its constitution, but the work will be far from over. Legislators in Springfield and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have taken some positive steps, including the abolition of so-called ‘Right to Work’ laws. If the amendment is passed, they should pass legislation which further supports unions and better protects workers.


While the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 failed to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the senate, the bill lays out several policies which Democrats in Springfield currently have the votes to pass and enact. A strong public showing in favor of the rights of workers could help push lawmakers to move on these issues.

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