Workers in the Midwest are celebrating—and for good reason.
Decades of advocacy by workers and organizers paid off this year when Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois passed new workplace protections for employees and their families. These improvements caused both Michigan and Minnesota to move up, and Illinois to hold strong in the top ten, on our 2023 Best and Worst States to Work in America rankings. Find out how these victories happened and what they improved below.
Illinois passed groundbreaking paid leave law
In March 2023, after years of negotiations between labor groups and businesses, Illinois passed a law that requires employers to offer paid leave “for any reason.” The law covers full- and part-time employees, as well as public- and private-sector workers. It also bars employers from retaliating against the employees who use it.
In response, Joan Van, a single working mother of three who had no paid time off before this bill, told the Associated Press, “It’s going to help out a lot of people, a lot of mothers, a lot of single mothers at that.”
For years, Oxfam and our partners have advocated for mandatory paid leave across the entire country. Our research shows that women, especially women of color, are most impacted by an absence of guaranteed paid sick and family leave, and would greatly benefit from it becoming mandatory. But, while change at the federal level is critical, it often takes more time, so it’s important for states to fill those gaps.
Minnesota approved paid leave and protections for warehouse workers
In May of 2023, on the heels of Illinois passing its groundbreaking paid leave law, Minnesota passed its own. Thanks to the hard work of labor advocates, private, public, and part-time employees will now receive 20 weeks of paid leave. The state also extended the policy’s definition of “family” to include people who employees care for, but may not be legally or biologically connected to, as well as extended its safe-leave coverage for survivors of sexual or domestic assault.
Warehouse workers in the state also celebrated a win this year. Many of Minnesota’s warehouse employees are migrant workers from Somalia, and have faced terrible workplace exploitation with little legislative protection. The Awood Center, an Oxfam partner organization that supports the state’s East African community, helped these workers stand up for their rights by organizing several walkouts and rallies.
Their actions made State Representative Emma Greenman take notice, and, in response, write a warehouse protection bill that:
- Gives workers breaks
- Makes it illegal for workers to be fired for not meeting quotas that they were not informed about
The bill passed both the House and the Senate to become state law in May of 2023. In Greenman’s statement, she credited the warehouse workers for raising awareness on the issues they were facing. According to Khali Jama, one of the advocates of the bill and a former Amazon employee, many immigrant workers who fought for this law to pass saw this as an equity issue, and believe it lays the groundwork for future protections.
Michigan overturned “right-to-work" law
When Michigan’s “right-to-work" act was pushed through during a lame-duck session in 2012, thousands of people turned up at the state house to protest. The state has a long history of being pro-union, and such a change was not taken positively as it meant less union protection and funding.
Now, 11 years of union advocacy later, Michigan became the first state legislature since 1965 to repeal its “right-to-work" law. The state also took this opportunity to extend worker protections beyond private-sector workers to include public-sector workers as well. This was a huge win for unions. They will now have more financial support from their members, and union protections will be more widespread. Additionally, the governor restored a wage law that requires contractors hired for state projects to pay union-level wages.
Laws that protect the rights of workers can reduce gender and racial inequality, and improve the lives of families. Yet, many workers are excluded from federal protections, like agricultural workers, contractors, gig workers, and domestic workers. That is why we have called on legislatures to eliminate “right-to-work" laws and support laws that protect all employees.
Taking state changes to the federal level
Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota are leading the way in workers' rights as the federal government continues to deny workers paid leave benefits and rights to organize. We at Oxfam have spent the past few years urging Congress to pass the FAMILY Act and the Healthy Families Act, which would create a paid leave standard for all workers. We’ve also urged Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). This law would expand various labor protections related to employees right to organize and collectively bargain, and would weaken “right-to-work" laws across the country.
While much more change needs to happen in order for workers to be fully protected, it’s encouraging to see positive change occur as a result of workers standing up for their rights.