September Newsletter | Organizing for Collective Power

Strengthening Workers’ Rights Strengthens Communities.

Better and safer working conditions, fair wages, health insurance and reasonable work hours are just a few of the benefits labor unions have collectively bargained for throughout history. The standard 8-hour workday, 40-hour work week many of us have come to know so well came to be after the National Labor Union’s unsuccessful request of Congress for a shorter workday in 1866. The movement for a shorter workday continued, and in 1867 the legislature of Illinois was the first to pass a law to shorten the workday to eight hours at a time when 12-hour shifts were common. This November, Illinoisans have an opportunity to make history again, in the workers’ right movement.

On Tuesday, November 8, voters in Illinois will have the opportunity to cast a vote in favor of Amendment 1 also known as the Workers’ Rights Amendment. Amendment 1 would guarantee employees 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.

Despite the significant lengths corporations and employers have gone to weaken the rights of workers to organize for decades, labor unions are gaining momentum again and workers are fighting against company pushback. In particular, young Americans are graduating from college with an average of $30,000 in student loan debt, faced with rising inflation costs, and struggling to find high-paying jobs. Seeing that there is power in numbers, young people are drawn to collective bargaining for higher wages and benefits.

The benefits of unionization and collective bargaining extend beyond the workplace. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), communities in which the workers live and call home are positively impacted. In states where there are strong union protections and the presence of empowered workers, there are “more equitable economic structures, social structures, and democracies.”

In these states, people are better positioned to thrive as shown below in the findings reported by the EPI.*

Income and economic protections
On average, the 17 U.S. states with the highest union densities:

  • Have state minimum wages that are on average 19% higher than the national average and 40% higher than those in low-union-density states.
  • Have median annual incomes of $6,000 higher than the national average.
  • Have higher-than-average unemployment insurance recipiency rates (that is, a higher share of those who are unemployed actually receive unemployment insurance).

Health and personal well-being
The states with the highest union densities:

  • Have an uninsured (without health insurance) population 4.5 percentage points lower, on average, than that of low-union-density states.
  • Have all elected to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, protecting their residents from falling into the “coverage gap.”
  • Are more likely to have passed paid sick leave laws and paid family and medical leave laws than states with lower union densities.


  • Significantly fewer restrictive voting laws have been passed in the 17 highest-union-density states than in the middle 17 states (including D.C.) and the 17 lowest-union-density states.
  • Over 70% of low-union-density states passed at least one voter suppression law between 2011 and 2019.

*Report: Unions are not only good for workers, they’re good for communities and for democracy; by Asha Banerjee, Margaret Poydock, Celine McNicholas, Ihna Mangundayao, and Ali Sait

This measure to amend the State of Illinois’ constitution is significant and historic, not only for the workplace but for our communities as well.

A vote to strengthen workers’ rights is a vote to strengthen our communities and protect our democracy that we can no longer take for granted.

In service to the mission,

Bethany Johnson-Javois
President & CEO
Deaconess Foundation

To read the rest of our September newsletter, click here.