It is the American Dream: Work hard and you can achieve a middle-class life. This narrative is a broken bargain for too many in today's workforce.
A far worse bargain exists for the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender and gender expansive individuals.
Passing the Workers' Rights Amendment will create a pathway to equality for our most marginalized LGBTQ+ Illinoisans. Working people who can collectively bargain are more likely to report harassment and discrimination when compared to non-union workers. They have a greater ability to fight for a living wage and healthcare that is inclusive of their needs, such as HIV prevention and treatment and gender affirming care.
In 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau took the historic step of adding questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to their survey. The data revealed that many LGBTQ+ Americans live in households earning below the poverty line. Moreover, 48% of LGBTQ+ individuals surveyed in 2021 by the Human Rights Commission expressed concern that they could not maintain their healthcare.
Unions have historically led the battle for living wages, quality healthcare, and retirement benefits. For example, in the '70s, UAW worker Joni Christian used the union's legal services to sue General Motors for an invasion of privacy following her gender transition. After winning the lawsuit, Christian remained at GM for another 30 years and retired in 1999 with a pension.
Christian cites the union as an essential factor in giving her the ability to transition. The company provided Christian with a paycheck that enabled her to pay for medical treatment. Furthermore, the union protected her from being fired or discriminated against while on the job. GM offers diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and sensitivity training today.
Unfortunately, Christian's story is not the case for many LGBTQ+-identifying workers. In the Illinois State Report of the National Transgender Survey, 15% of transgender respondents reported losing a job because of their gender identity. Another 26% said they faced mistreatment at work. We also know that transgender women who hold both a marginalized gender and gender identity (e.g., woman and transgender) report earning 60 cents for every dollar the average U.S. worker takes home.
The 2020 Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County was a step in the right direction. The ruling established that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on "transgender status." Despite this victory, enforcement will always be an issue when employees are outnumbered by management vested in protecting their interests.
We must guard workers' rights equally as we protect abortion rights. Bostock v. Clayton County is slowly being chipped away under exceptions for "sincerely held religious belief." Unions level the playing field in the workplace for all but face fierce opposition as corporate influence over public policy continues to erode workplace equality protections.
LGBTQ+ rights and workers' rights are under siege nationwide. The Workers' Rights Amendment holds more weight than ever for our community and offers us an additional layer of protection in a climate of increased xenophobia and discrimination.
A "yes" vote for the Workers' Rights Amendment is a vote for equality.
Brian Johnson is the Chief Executive Officer at Equality Illinois
Myles Brady-Davis is Communications Director at Equality Illinois
Alyssa Goodstein is Communications Director for the ILAFL-CIO and LGBTQ+ Caucus Director for Young Democrats of Illinois
Bob Reiter is President of the Chicago Federation of Labor
Tim Drea is the President of the ILAFL-CIO
Pat Devaney is the Secretary-Treasurer of the ILAFL-CIO