Amendment 1 could undermine 11 DCFS provisions aimed at protecting children

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
December 20, 2021

Amendment 1 could undermine 11 DCFS provisions aimed at protecting children

Amendment 1 would allow unions to override provisions put in place for the protection of the children Illinois is supposed to be safeguarding.

More than 1,100 children have died under the watch of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services during the past 11 years, including 5-year-old AJ Freund, who in 2019 was found in a shallow grave despite 10 DCFS hotline calls about his mother.

But Amendment 1 – sometimes referred to as the Workers Rights Amendment and set to appear on the Nov. 8, 2022, ballot as “Proposed Amendment to the 1970 Illinois Constitution” – would undermine 11 different provisions in state law designed to protect Illinois children such as AJ, including mandatory background checks for DCFS workers and employment bans on adults deemed “sexually dangerous” by the state.

And it could make improving DCFS and its ability to ensure the safety of children even harder, even if the General Assembly revised current law to require new training or evaluations of employees.

That’s because Amendment 1 would allow unions to demand anything in negotiations – wages, hours, conditions of employment, economic welfare and safety – without any limitations.

What’s more, Amendment 1 would give union leaders the permanent ability to override state laws through collective bargaining agreements – including provisions in the Children and Family Services Act.

The Children and Family Services Act is just one of many acts in Illinois statutes governing DCFS.

Among its various provisions are laws aimed at accomplishing DCFS’ mission of protecting “children who are reported to be abused or neglected and to increase their families’ capacity to safely care for them; provide for the well-being of children in our care; [and] provide appropriate, permanent families as quickly as possible …”

That includes Section 5(z), which requires DCFS to acquire “background information” on all its employees, and Section 11.1, which prohibits employment of anyone declared a “sexually dangerous” person.

It also includes Section 34.3, which requires DCFS to review cases to determine whether caseworkers appropriately “identified and addressed actual or potential drug or alcohol abuse problems of clients.”

But Amendment 1 would allow union contracts to contradict and override these provisions. For example, the union representing DCFS workers could demand a contract provision prohibiting the state from performing background checks or from reviewing employees’ work – under the auspices that such provisions relate to a “condition of employment.” If the state doesn’t go along, the union could call a strike.

While the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act already explicitly allows union contracts to override state law in this way, Amendment 1 would make this a permanent right. Lawmakers would never be able to take back control from union leaders.

That’s because Amendment 1 also prohibits lawmakers from putting any limitations on what subjects can be negotiated into contracts. It explicitly states, “No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and work place safety. …”

In other words, Amendment 1 places government union power to negotiate DCFS employee contracts above state law and lawmakers’ authority.

And unfortunately for the state’s youth, Amendment 1 would allow union demands to permanently replace what is best for children such as AJ.

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