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Illinois Amended its Constitution to Outlaw "Right-to-Work" Laws
Finally, some good news!
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While there’s much to rejoice in the results of the midterm election, I’m especially keen on two developments:
For the most part, America rejected the fascistic elements of the Republican Party, and
Illinois passed Amendment 1, which added a Workers’ Rights Amendment to the state constitution.
There’s no shortage of coverage on the Congressional horse race, so I’ll skip #1 and instead draw your attention to #2, which is going undiscussed.
The Workers’ Rights Amendment
As this proposition was an Amendment to the state Constitution, it required more than a simple majority to pass. But Illinois, home to the union stronghold of Chicago, has a long history of labor struggle, dating all the way back to the Haymarket affair. With this history deep in their bones, Illinoisans decided to Be Cool and voted for the Workers’ Rights Amendment.
The Amendment has two parts. The first relates to guaranteeing workers the right to unionize, should they choose. The ballot initiative read:
The proposed amendment would add a new section to the Bill of Rights Article of the Illinois Constitution that would guarantee workers the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively and to negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions, and to promote their economic welfare and safety at work.
With these rights enshrined in the Illinois Constitution, it is going to be significantly harder for companies to bust unions, as such an attempt would violate workers’ Constitutional rights and trigger a lawsuit. The initiative language is as strong as it is clear, making it hard for Capitalists and their lawyers to construct arguments that rely on the outlandish, unreasonable, and bad-faith legal interpretations so common in American courts.
And as great as the first part is, it is only the stiff jab before the right cross K.O.
The second sentence of the ballot initiative reads:
The new amendment would also prohibit from being passed any new law that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and workplace safety.
In plain speak, this outlaws the anti-union legislation known as “Right-to-Work laws.”
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Since the end of World War II, these so-called “Right-to-Work” laws have been big businesses’ go-to strategy for breaking unions. While they are neatly presented as a method of “ensuring freedom,” in reality, they are anti-democratic attempts to disempower workers. Here’s how they operate:
Arizona is a “Right-to-Work” state. Its Constitutions says Arizona workers have a "right to work or employment without membership in labor organization” (i.e., a union).
Workers in a hypothetical Arizona Amazon warehouse hold a union vote. The vote passes 60 to 40.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certifies the warehouse is now unionized. But because Arizona’s Constitution says workers don’t have to join a union to work at the warehouse, the 40 workers who voted “no” decide not to become union members.
As those 40 are not members, they do not pay union dues. Now, the union, which bargains for the 100-person workforce, only has funding from 60 members.
This is known as the “free rider” problem. Even though they do not pay union fees, those 40 “no” voters still benefit from the union. As unions are shown to raise wages, benefits, and safety conditions for all workers, not just those who are members, the free riders get all the union’s advantages without paying for them.
For example, if Amazon Labor Union established a handrail on a particularly dangerous warehouse catwalk in our hypothetical Arizona warehouse, all 100 employees would be safer, even though only 60 of them paid for it. The same effect would be felt across wages, benefits, and any other workplace conditions, such as vacation time or 401k contributions.
But the real problem with “Right-to-Work” isn’t a few workers skipping out on dues, but what happens when more and more workers decide not to pay. By instituting “Right-to-Work” laws and letting the number of free riders grow and grow, unions wither and die like an apple dropped from the branch and left to shrivel in the sun.
Returning to our example of the hypothetical Arizona warehouse, once union members see the non-members getting the same benefits without paying dues, they will follow human nature and stop paying dues as well. After all, why would anyone pay for what they can get for free? As time passes, more and more will exit the union. The end result is only a few dues-paying members, leaving the union unable to finance its operation. Eventually, the union will have to stop representing the warehouse workers, re-subjecting them to Amazon’s exploitation. (Out comes the handrails. Amazon needs the metal for the foreskin of Bezos’s next spaceship.)
This is how “Right-to-Work” laws enable Capitalists to destroy unions. Believe it or not, they don’t actually care about a “right to work.” They fire people every day! These laws are not “freedom,” they are a strategy to keep working Americans subjugated. It is not a coincidence the majority of Right-to-Work laws and amendments were passed in the post-war period (1944 - 1958) when labor power was surging and red-scare politics were making a comeback at the hands of Joseph McCarthy.
But fortunately, Illinois has shown us a path forward.
The victory of Amendment 1 is not only a celebration but an inspiration. As we can see from the map below, the majority (27) of states have some form of Right-to-Work statute. Not only should the Left be looking to overturn these measures, but we should aim to replace them with Amendments of the Illinois model.
So thank you, Illinois. I take back everything bad I ever said about your weird pizza.
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What do you think of Illinois’s new Amendment? Share your thoughts in the comments below.