Amendment 1 could let Illinois police unions undo SAFE-T Act mandates

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
November 23, 2022

Amendment 1 could let Illinois police unions undo SAFE-T Act mandates

Illinois’ new union amendment allows government unions to negotiate over virtually anything and override state law through their union contracts. That includes laws aimed at reforming police procedures.

With Amendment 1 on track for passage with a slim simple majority, all government unions in Illinois may soon have the unprecedented ability to override state and local laws simply by negotiating contrary provisions into their collective bargaining agreements.

That’s because Amendment 1 elevates government union contracts to the level of the state constitution. The amendment expands what government unions can demand during negotiations to include virtually anything, and prohibits lawmakers from ever limiting the subjects that can be placed in union contracts. Government union leaders will also have a permanent right to strike to get their demands met.

Some government unions in Illinois, including police unions, already had a right to void state and local law simply by writing contrary provisions into their collective bargaining agreements.

It sounds crazy. Yet it’s there in black and white:

“…any collective bargaining contract between a public employer and a labor organization executed pursuant to this Act shall supersede any contrary statutes, charters, ordinances, rules or regulations relating to wages, hours and conditions of employment and employment relations adopted by the public employer or its agents.”

Under Amendment 1, all government unions will permanently have this power, and over virtually anything.

That includes police unions looking to counteract provisions in the SAFE-T Act.

The SAFE-T Act has been the source of plenty of controversy during this election cycle, becoming a favorite campaign issue for those skeptical of criminal justice reform broadly and no-cash bail in particular. While criminal justice reformers have been quick to celebrate the SAFE-T Act, the law was rushed through the legislative process, and some of the most important provisions when eliminating cash bail – those regarding pre-trial detention – have placed several confusing conditions on prosecutors to protect public safety.

But police unions and departments could simply negate any SAFE-T Act provisions they don’t like through the collective bargaining process. Examples of new mandates that contracts could void include:

  • Allowing anonymous complaints against officers
  • Restrictions to what constitutes a police officer’s justified use of force, including banning chokeholds, clarifications on when deadly force is justified and execution of search warrants
  • Requiring all law enforcement agencies to use officer-worn body cameras by 2025
  • Requiring specific training, such as instruction on use of force techniques and de-escalation techniques.

The possibility of contradicting the SAFE-T Act through union contracts hasn’t gone unnoticed, with at least one attorney taking to twitter to encourage the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police to do that very thing.

In fact, government unions could override more than 350 state laws through their collective bargaining agreements. That includes at least 11 provisions related to DCFS workers and 38 provisions in the School Code aimed at protecting children.

With nearly 30 state contracts expiring in 2023 – and more than 6,000 units of government in Illinois that could also negotiate union contracts in the next few years – Illinoisans could soon find out just how much power government unions have been granted. And they could see it thousands of times over.

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