Yesterday, the Illinois legislature passed an important bill that would safeguard protections for hundreds of thousands of workers across the state. SB 1474 would prohibit local governments from enacting anti-labor “Right to Work” ordinances. In order to ensure fair labor standards for all Illinois workers, WCRJ is calling upon Governor Pritzker to immediately enact SB 1474.
In recent years, so called “Right to Work” policies have been aggressively championed by rightwing, pro-business interest groups in an effort to curtail the power of workers to collectively negotiate fair labor standards. Right to Work laws prohibit organized labor from requiring non-union employees to pay reduced rate “fair share” dues. In order to effectively negotiate equitable labor standards for all employees, unions rely on small fees from every staff member who stands to benefit from such contracts. Anti-labor activists deceptively frame the issue as a matter of free speech, despite the fact that fair share fees only finance union negotiating efforts, not political activity.
From its inception in the 1940s, the Right to Work movement sought to destabilize organized labor by stoking racial resentment among white workers. Its founder, oil magnate and white supremacist Vance Muse, exploited anti-Black sentiment held by segregationist southerners, arguing (accurately) that increased unionization would accelerate workplace integration and improve wages for workers of color. The anti-Black motivations behind Right to Work policies persist in the modern day.
Historically, organized labor has advanced critical workplace protections for employees of color and served to reduce racialized wage discrimination. For this reason, Black employees in Illinois are significantly more likely to be unionized than any other racial group. Collective bargaining also sets higher local wage standards, which benefits workers throughout the state. By undermining the ability of unions to collectively bargain on behalf of all employees, local Right to Work ordinances pose a serious threat to Black workers across Illinois.
The Illinois legislature has judiciously upheld workers rights by refusing to enact proposed Right to Work policies. However, in 2015 the village of Lincolnshire succumbed to politicized pressure of corporate interest groups and passed a local Right to Work ordinance into law. In swift opposition, four unions mounted a legal challenge to Lincolnshire’s policy on the basis that the U.S. Constitution only upholds state level Right to Work legislation, not that of subordinate local governments. The lawsuit is now poised to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, which, as a result of recent Trump administration nominations, has assumed an extremist anti-worker disposition. In order to protect Illinois workers from future assaults on collective bargaining rights, the state must outlaw local Right to Work ordinances.
Your voice is crucial to advancing the fight for racial equity, opportunity and justice. Advocate for the change you want to see in your city, state and beyond by visiting WCRJ’s Racial Justice Online Action Center and demanding policy action of your elected officials.