Illinois Chamber of Commerce opposes workers’ rights amendment

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 5:55 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois unions hope voters will support their effort to include a workers’ rights amendment in the state’s constitution. However, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and several other business groups oppose the idea.

Chamber President and CEO Todd Maisch said Thursday that the proposal will give unions more political power instead of providing working families more money.

The proposed change to the constitution would guarantee workers have the fundamental right to organize and collectively bargain. Yet, the Chamber of Commerce believes Illinois should be like most neighboring states that have right-to-work laws.

Maisch said union leaders don’t want to go in front of state lawmakers, the public or their own workers to explain why right-to-work is good or bad. He feels the state’s top labor organizations want to have indefinite control.

“All this does is shut down the opportunity for workers to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union and pay all those extra dues and take money out of their paycheck or just have the unions decide you will do that,” Maisch said.

Maisch said chamber members are strongly opposed to the amendment, but they have a sense that Illinois will not become a right-to-work state within the next five to six years. He feels putting workers’ rights into the constitution will send a signal to the rest of the country that Illinois is not a business-friendly state.

“This is going to bake it in for generations,” Maisch added. “There’s so much going on that says we’re not business-friendly. Even though we’re not about to be right-to-work, it sends a signal that we are not serious about becoming a pro-business state.”

The amendment states no law can be passed to interfere with or diminish the rights of employees to organize and advocate for better wages, hours, or other conditions of employment. The general election is two months away and this will be the first question you see on the ballot.

Maisch said he is concerned that conservative leaders will be blocked from having plans to make Illinois a right-to-work state. Maisch also noted the amendment will be popular for Gov. JB Pritzker’s base, but he feels it could hurt more workers in the long run.

“It’s irrational to go ahead and decide that this is going to be in the constitution for a generation,” Maisch said. “So it makes perfect sense to think about where we’re going to be five years from now, 10` years from now.”

Labor organizations have $12 million in donations for TV ads and outreach about the amendment. Meanwhile, the business community is virtually silent. Maisch admitted that chamber members believe this question isn’t as important as Illinois Supreme Court and statehouse races in November.

Still, Maisch said union leaders may be spending this much money on the workers’ rights campaign because they’re afraid of people voting against the amendment. The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Illinois Policy Institute and Illinois Family Action are also against the change. IPI researchers believe the amendment could lead to higher taxes and debt for the state. The libertarian think tank said the amendment would guarantee a $2,100 property tax hike for the average Illinois family over the next five years.

The amendment will need support from 60% of voters this fall to become enacted. Although, Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea expects strong voter support for the effort.

“We think there is a lot of support amongst the electorate because of what happened in the General Assembly,” Drea said. “We’ll get support from Democrats, Republicans, independents and libertarians. Anybody who is concerned with a safe workplace and economic stability is who we need.”

Drea also argues that worker safety and economic security shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Although, he respects that some organizations will speak against the amendment.

“Worker safety should not be an issue that people are for or against. We should all be for worker safety,” Drea said. “We should all be for workers being able to better themselves and their families.”

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