Illinois Guarantees Labor Rights, While Tennessee Bolsters Its Right-to-Work Status
Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor
November 16, 2022
In last week's elections, voters in Illinois and Tennessee each approved ballot initiatives amending their state constitution regarding labor rights. However, the measures were completely opposite to each other, as Tennessee affirmed its status as a right-to-work state and Illinois created a new amendment guaranteeing workers the right to bargain and organize.
Amendment 1, also know as the Workers' Rights Amendment, was placed on the ballot through a joint resolution of the state legislature. The resolution enacts a new section of the Illinois Constitution that makes it a fundamental right for workers to organize and bargain collectively through their chosen representatives over:
- Working conditions, and
- Their economic welfare and safety at work.
The new amendment also prohibits the passage of any that law that interferes with, negates or diminishes these rights. That includes right-to-work laws or other measures that prohibit the execution or application of agreements between employers and any labor organizations representing employees that require membership in the union as a condition of employment.
To pass under Illinois law, the ballot measure had to be approved by 60% of those voting on the measure itself or by a simple majority of all votes cast in the election. Although the initiative fell short of the 60% threshold (with only 58% of the vote), the overall electorate approved it with 53% in favor. The determination of whether the measure passed was delayed because there were enough mail-in ballots to affect the results of the election. Final vote tallies will be certified next week.
Tennessee's ballot measure adding a right-to-work amendment to the state constitution was a clear winner, with 70% of voters approving it.
The new amendment makes it illegal for any person, corporation, association or the state or its political subdivisions to deny or attempt to deny employment to any person because of the person's membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.
However, the amendment does not change current employment law in practical terms, as Tennessee was one of the first states to enact a right-to-work statute in 1947. Instead, by making it a constitutional right, the state is seeking to preserve right-to-work in the event a federal law is passed that attempts to void such laws. The proposed federal Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) includes such a provision. However, despite being passed by the House of Representatives, the PRO Act has languished in the Senate and is not expected to be acted upon anytime soon.