If you want to fight authoritarianism, why not put more power in the hands of workers by “democratizing the workplace”? When I look at employment in the US, I see mostly three major types of organizations with the power to shape our work lives: employers (mostly large corporations), government, and unions. Government has become more toothless to enforce labor laws which is no surprise with the GOP doing what they can to weaken enforcement. Unions are making a bit of a comeback, but they are still on a long trend downward.
Corporations not only seem to be in solid control of our working lives, but with our healthcare, retirement assets, and many other essential needs tied to it, the balance of power is lopsided in their favor. A small group of people whose first responsibility is to the business owners is making decisions that can have major impact on our lives. All our eggs are in one basket, and the basket is locked up in a cabinet somewhere above the clouds on the “C floor”.
We have the opportunity in Illinois to strengthen the law that regulates collective bargaining with an amendment to the Illinois Constitution.
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. No law shall be passed 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 work place safety, including any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or application of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.
The intent is to secure the right to collective bargaining more strongly to prevent backsliding and ever ongoing attempts to undermine labor law. All unions are supporting this and there are no solid arguments against it that I can see, but there are several misleading “criticisms”.
1. The amendment makes no mention of difference between unions in public or private sector, nor about property tax, but that doesn’t prevent the opposition from promoting disinformation that sets up kneejerk, bad faith reactions. Property taxes are always a hot issue, and via a convoluted combination of “what if”, “could happen”, and pure unresponsible speculation, a deceitful libertarian organization (Illinois Policy Institut, IPI) is trying to frighten voters into believing their property taxes will go up based on this amendment. However this is rated false by this fact check:
Our experts say the IPI is speculating about outcomes.
“It’s not a property tax as such. It’s a guess or extrapolation or forecast,” said University of Illinois Political Science Professor, Brian Gaines.
2. The IPI says this only applies to public union collective bargaining because via the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the federal government manages collective bargaining in the private sector. But does that pass the smell test? Isn’t any state law valid as long at it doesn’t conflict with federal law? How else would both the feds and states have minimum wage laws? The IPI links to this legal reference for why the states cannot influence private sector unions, but did they read the whole sentence (my bold):
The preemption doctrine refers to the idea that a higher authority of law will displace the law of a lower authority of law when the two authorities come into conflict.
The very same legal reference has this on collective bargaining (my bold):
The result of collective bargaining procedures is a collective agreement. Collective bargaining is governed by federal and state statutory laws, administrative agency regulations, and judicial decisions.
National Labor Relations
The main body of law governing collective bargaining is the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It is also referred to as the Wagner Act. It explicitly grants employees the right to collectively bargain and join trade unions. The NLRA was originally enacted by Congress in 1935 under its power to regulate interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. It applies to most private non-agricultural employees and employers engaged in some aspect of interstate commerce. Decisions and regulations of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which was established by the NLRA, greatly supplement and define the provisions of the act.
The NLRA establishes procedures for the selection of a labor organization to represent a unit of employees in collective bargaining. The act prohibits employers from interfering with this selection. The NLRA requires the employer to bargain with the appointed representative of its employees. It does not require either side to agree to a proposal or make concessions but does establish procedural guidelines on good faith bargaining. Proposals which would violate the NLRA or other laws may not be subject to collective bargaining. The NLRA also establishes regulations on what tactics (e.g. strikes, lock-outs, picketing) each side may employ to further their bargaining objectives.
State laws further regulate collective bargaining and make collective agreements enforceable under state law. They may also provide guidelines for those employers and employees not covered by the NLRA, such as agricultural laborers.
3. Opponents also use the phrase “right to work” to get people thinking this law would weaken chances to find jobs. “Right to work” is often rebranded as “Right to work — for less” by union supporters. Right to work is mostly about how someone who works at a company should not have to belong to a union or pay union dues if they don’t want to.
But what makes unions work in collective bargaining is that they do so collectively. Those who object when unions use some portion of dues to support political or social causes are often exempt from having to pay that portion, but continue to pay smaller dues that just contribute to the costs involved with collective bargaining activity. But some people do not want to pay even that portion of dues. They receive all the benefits of collective bargaining, but they don’t want to contribute to the effort in any way. There is an opportuistic hypocrisy at play there. But we’re obviously not going to see them giving away the money they neither asked for nor supported.
I am not sure this amendment is the best way to strengthen unions in Illinois, but I support this because I see so much deceit coming from opponents. Workers have been weakened over the last decades and stronger unions would help balance the power among the three types of organizations I mentioned.
Objections or questions? feel free to comment. I am no legal expert, but our family is a union family. My spouse’s job was saved once when the top exec went crazy and handed out dozens of pink slips that violated the union’s contract. My spouse who was performing much needed, hard, dangerous work in a maximum security facility did not deserve that, nor did the rest of the family need to go through that agonizing year waiting for the legal process to work it out. The courts rulled in the union’s favor. Despite my opinion I’ve looked hard at some of the most common objections to this amendment, and I do not see anything substantial on that side of the issue.
Vote YES! It’s at the top of the Illinois ballot.