Labor Unions on Defense in Tennessee, on Offense in Illinois

  • Nebraska, Nevada voters to decide about minimum wage
  • Constitutional changes may impede future policy flips

Organized labor is pushing to add worker-rights language to the Illinois Constitution and defeat proposed Tennessee restrictions, while other voters on Nov. 8 will have the chance to raise the minimum wage.

Voters in Tennessee, one of 27 states that ban compulsory union membership, are being asked to enshrine that prohibition in the state constitution to make it hard for future lawmakers to reverse that policy.

“The best way to ensure we remain a right-to-work state and protect worker freedoms for generations to come is to place it in the state constitution,” Tennessee Rep. Chris Todd (R) said at a March legislative hearing.

Illinois voters are being asked to do the opposite: to create a constitutional right to collectively bargain and to be represented by a union.

“There’s an assault on workers out there, and we want to say, ‘ Whoa, we not going to do that in Illinois’,” Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea said in an interview.
Meanwhile, voters in Nebraska and Nevada will be asked if the state’s minimum wage should be increased.

In Illinois, voters will be asked whether to approve proposed Amendment 1.

A “yes” vote would support a “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,” according to the proposal.

It also seeks to bar enactment of any law that “interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively.”

Drea said his organization pushed for the initiative in part over concerns about how political winds shift, as when former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) “campaigned on coming hard after unions.”

“That was a real wake up call for Illinois,” the labor leader said.

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Tennessee voters will be asked if they want the Tennessee Constitution to ban companies from requiring union membership as a condition of employment.

In addition to making it harder to upend the status quo, the Tennessee initiative would make it unlawful for an employer or political subdivision to deny or attempt to deny employment to individuals because of union membership or a refusal to join or affiliate with a labor union.

Supporters of the change said state law gives workers a choice of joining or not joining a union, and the proposal addresses union membership as a hiring requirement.

Minimum Wage

In the two states with minimum wage questions, voters are being asked to lock in automatic inflation adjustments.

A “yes” vote on Nebraska’s Initiative 433 would increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026. After that, the bottom hourly pay level would go up based on the US Labor Department’s consumer price index for the Midwest region. The ballot question was initiated by voters.

In Nevada, Question 2, initiated by legislators, asks voters if the state constitution should be amended to set annual inflation adjustments, to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2024, and to end a system of differing minimum-wage rates depending on whether employees are offered health benefits.

Nebraska’s minimum wage is $9 an hour; in Nevada, it’s $10.50 an hour.

“Over the past two decades, there has not been a single minimum wage ballot initiative that has failed, when eventually put to a vote,” Ben Zipperer, Economic Policy Institute economist, said in an email.

Most recently, that included a vote in 2020 to raise Florida’s minimum wage to $11 an hour as of Sept. 30 and boost the rate to $15 an hour by 2026.

The federal government’s minimum of $7.25 an hour is matched by 13 states. Five others — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee — have no state minimum wage.

In Georgia and Wyoming, the state minimum is $5.15 per hour, and employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act must pay most workers the current federal minimum wage.

The federal minimum wage was last increased in 2009.

Washington state’s $14.49 an hour minimum wage is the highest in the nation, according to US Labor Department statistics.

The push for increasing minimum wages in the future has already begun: in November 2024, voters in California are scheduled to be asked if the state’s minimum wage should increase to $18 an hour by 2026.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Joyce in Chicago at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at; Loren Duggan at