With summer winding down and families across Illinois juggling everything from the first day of school to grappling with rising prices, it can be easy for families grateful for the long holiday weekend to overlook the meaning of Labor Day, and what we stand to lose if we don’t act this November, when the Workers’ Rights Amendment will be on the ballot.
It’s no secret that for too long American workers have been hurting. Wages have been stagnant for decades, and inflation has been squeezing Illinois families all year, forcing them to make their dollars stretch farther as everything from groceries to gas became more expensive.
Even worse, we haven’t fully recovered from a pandemic that wreaked havoc on small businesses in communities across our state. At the same time, some of the biggest corporations in our country raked in record profits at the expense of the workers who make up the backbone of the Illinois economy, forcing them to do more with less — even if it put their safety in jeopardy.
Illinoisans have always understood our workers’ value to each of the state’s 102 counties. From the construction workers that sculpted Chicago’s skyline to the nurses and firefighters keeping our biggest cities and smallest communities safe, our workers have always made Illinois the hope of the heartland.
The labor movement in Illinois dates back to the 1800s when miners and iron workers began fighting for better pay and working conditions. From that era on, the labor movement has taken bold stands for working people across the state on everything from the eight-hour workday to equal pay, work that continues today.
While the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009, our sisters and brothers in labor have joined with workers to raise our minimum wage in Chicago and across the state, improving the lives of thousands of workers.
It’s a rich and powerful tradition that every Illinoisan should be proud of. But that tradition is under attack every day, and if we want to level the playing field for Illinois workers for another generation, we need to fight back.
Luckily, in Illinois this November we have the opportunity to vote ‘yes’ for the Workers’ Rights Amendment to enshrine your right to organize and bargain collectively with your co-workers in our state constitution and send a powerful message that Illinois is and always will be a workers’ rights state.
Collective bargaining is one of the most powerful tools for lifting wages and improving benefits and working conditions. Putting more money in the pockets of families across Illinois will help families deal with rising costs and strengthen our communities.
A recent study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaignlaid out the benefits of the Workers’ Rights Amendment for workers and our state. It noted that union construction workers, teachers and emergency responders like firefighters and registered nurses would earn anywhere from 5% to 35% more in Illinois.
Those jobs are available to workers across our state, even if they don’t have a college degree. Union jobs offer some of the best wages available to people who haven’t received a degree, and that’s crucially important as the future of work and education continues to change.
With student enrollment declining across the country, creating pathways to success for workers without degrees has never been more important. The Workers’ Rights Amendment will help promote creating more of these great jobs for all Illinoisans.
While good-paying jobs are critical to growing our economy, our ability to earn a living and take care of our families doesn’t just rely on a strong wage. It takes a safe workplace, and the Workers’ Rights Amendment will also help protect workers on the job and off.
But the safety protections in the Workers’ Rights Amendment don’t just apply to emergency responders like firefighters and EMTs — they protect every worker’s ability to raise safety concerns at work without fear of retaliation. When I talk to construction workers and operating engineers about job safety, they don’t just talk about keeping themselves and their co-workers safe. They tell me about the safety issues they identify and the senseless tragedies they can prevent.
That helps us keep Illinoisans on the job and our communities safe from dangerous situations, which is why protecting workers who raise safety concerns from retaliation is important. The Workers’ Rights Amendment will guarantee that workers who raise safety concerns can’t be fired or punished for looking out for their co-workers and communities.
We can have better pay, safer workplaces and stronger communities. It’s what workers like you deserve, and this can’t wait. This is our chance to vote for ourselves and ensure that workers across Illinois know that we’re all in this together.
Vote ‘yes’ for the Workers’ Rights Amendment at the top of your ballot this November and help us put workers first.
Pat Devaney is the former president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO, representing nearly 900,000 workers across Illinois.