Measure did not get 60% of those voting on the question, but did get more than 50% of all votes cast
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois is a strong union state, and to keep it that way the labor movement successfully convinced voters to add a new amendment to the state constitution that guarantees government employees the right to organize and collectively bargain over terms of employment.
The measure in last week's election was closely watched in Illinois and beyond as a gauge of public support for the labor movement, which has lost ground for years in conservative-led states. Unions groups say it could signal a new chapter in the struggle over workers' rights as U.S. union ranks have grown as everyone from coffee shop baristas to warehouse workers seeks to organize.
"All the Workers' Rights Amendment does is protect the rights we already have," said Bob Reiter of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
Supporters view it as a way to ensure workers will always be able to use their collective clout to secure better pay, hours and working conditions. They also say it will prevent the Legislature, should it undergo a shift to the right, from passing a so-called right-to-work law that would allow workers covered by union contracts to not pay dues.
Only a few years ago former governor Bruce Rauner tried to enact anti-labor legislation for local municipalities.
"Having something like the Workers' Rights Amendment shuts the door on anti-worker politicians undermining our rights," Reiter said.
Reiter said the amendment will only protect current rights but not expand them.
Business groups and conservatives opposed the measure, saying they think it will drive up taxes, give unions too much power, lead to more strikes and prompt companies to leave for more industry-friendly states.
Conservative think tank the Illinois Policy Institute opposed it.
"Essentially what it does is give the most extreme powers in the nation to government unions in Illinois," said Austin Berg, Illinois Policy Institute.
Berg said the amendment will allow, for example, the Chicago Teachers Union to bargain for social issues like affordable housing. He fears the amendment will lead to more strikes and tax hikes.
"When there is new power to bargain for one of those things, somebody has to pay for that, and taxpayers of Illinois are going to pay for that," he said.
Union rights have taken a beating in Republican-led states in recent years. Twenty-seven states now have right-to-work laws, and Wisconsin went so far as to strip nearly all of its public workers, including teachers, of collective bargaining rights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.