Amendment 1 would allow secret government union contracts

Amendment 1 would allow secret government union contracts

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act requires open access to government union contracts. But Amendment 1 would allow union leaders to override state law to make those contracts secret.

The same groups who tried to raise taxes on the middle class and retirees just two years ago through a progressive income tax amendment have a new strategy to amend the Illinois Constitution to guarantee higher taxes.

This time, those taxes will be a secret.

Inaccurately framed as a “workers’ rights amendment,” Amendment 1 is actually a radical change on the Nov. 8 ballot that would grant government union leaders power that exists in no other state. If voters agree, the amendment would give union bosses the power to negotiate costly agreements taxpayers never get to see.

That’s because Amendment 1 would let union bosses override more than 350 laws simply by countering them through collective bargaining agreements. That includes the ability to void the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which guarantees open access to state and local government records, with limited exceptions.

The act specifically requires the final contract between a government unit and the union representing its employees be subject to inspection and copying. But government union leaders could override the act by demanding provisions in those contracts that prohibit public access.

That would make those contracts secret. Taxpayers would never see them, yet be forced to pay for them and whatever costs they contained.

That’s particularly concerning because research shows states that make larger promises to government unions have more debt per taxpayer.

Under Amendment 1, there is no limit on what government unions can demand, no limit on what state and local governments can give away through negotiations, and no requirement that governments be able to pay for new costs.

The amendment itself prohibits lawmakers from ever restricting the subjects that can be bargained for or limiting the length of union contracts. Lawmakers could never limit when government unions go on strike to get their demands met.

Taxpayers would be responsible for whatever generous contracts union leaders negotiate. That would mean higher property taxes, which are already the second highest in the nation.

Illinois’ pension debt, most recently estimated by Moody’s Investor Services at $313 billion in 2021, would continue to balloon while hurting the state economy and job growth. It would drive more people out of Illinois. It would mean the state’s high state and local tax burden would continue to increase to pay for union demands that have already risen beyond what taxpayers can afford. Shifting more money to unions would mean spending on vital programs for the state’s most vulnerable would continue to fall.

Illinois government unions already have tremendous power with a track record of hamstringing government leaders into agreeing to costly contracts, even without Amendment 1.

The Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in 2019 – keeping kids out of the classroom for 11 days – to secure a contract projected to cost residents an average of $80 more per year in higher property taxes. Similarly, the contract reached in 2012 – after students missed seven days of instruction during a CTU strike – was followed by the closure of 50 schools and teacher layoffs due in part to the cost of the contract.

The most recent contract between the state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 will cost $3.6 billion more than what taxpayers should have paid under a more taxpayer-friendly contract. While the union did not go on strike, it threatened to do so – and shut down government services – in the years leading up to the agreement.

Amendment 1 would only make things worse.

Not only would expensive union contracts make it more costly for residents to live here, but the ability of union leaders to keep government contracts secret would prevent Illinoisans from even knowing what they are paying for.

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