All of us who breathe the air, drink the water, and hope for a healthy future for our kids and grandchildren have a lot at stake in Illinois’ debate over Right to Work. The right of workers to organize is not only important for individual workers to earn a living wage and be treated fairly by employers, it also protects and strengthens our communities.
Workers are our first line of defense against toxic pollution, chemical spills, and other accidents that can devastate communities. Union workers are more likely to receive the training necessary to deal the health and safety risks of hazardous chemicals. A union can offer protection and job security to an employee who might blow the whistle on hazards and accidents in the workplace, or who might report illegal pollution or dangerous conditions. Too many workers without the protection of a union are forced to handle toxic chemicals without proper safeguards, and stay quiet for fear of losing their job. Don’t we all want the workers at the factory or power plant near our neighborhood, school, or workplace to know they can speak up when they see danger?
Right to work is primarily a tactic to lower wages, and pollution thrives on poverty. Families living on low wages are more likely to live with increased air and water pollution than those earning a living wage. Low-income households are more likely to have a child or family member who suffers from asthma or other illness made worse by pollution, and less likely to have access to quality healthcare to treat these problems. People struggling to survive on poverty wages are less empowered to seek justice when their communities are threatened. That’s how poverty attracts pollution, and environmental injustice occurs. Everyone wants clean air, clean water, safe open spaces, and a better future for their families. However, you can’t have a voice in the fight for our future if low wages force you to focus on putting food on the table. Unions help workers stand together for better wages and health care, and in the process empower citizens to stand up to protect their health and families.
Unions also empower workers to speak and act collectively about the major issues of our time. When it comes to confronting the threat of climate change, and seizing the opportunities of the clean energy economy, organized workers can play a pivotal role in creating new jobs in renewable energy and conservation and thus reducing the pollution that threatens our health and our future. In moving to the cleaner energy sources of the future, we must also ensure a just transition for workers in the old energy sector. To make that transition work for all of us, we count on unions to participate in creating the policies that will bring us the future we all want.
Let’s support the rights of our fellow citizens to organize and form unions – our future may very well depend on it.