Amendment 1 would give Illinois government union bosses nation’s most extreme powers

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
October 22, 2021

Amendment 1 would give Illinois government union bosses nation’s most extreme powers

No other state constitutions guarantee unmitigated powers to government unions, and 28 state constitutions don’t even find a need to mention labor.

When voters head to the polls Nov. 8, 2022, there is something they should know: If they pass Amendment 1, it will give Illinois government union leaders the most extreme powers in the nation.

Specifically, Amendment 1 would place four distinct labor provisions in the Illinois constitution: 1) a “fundamental right” to organize and bargain; 2) the right to bargain over wages, hours, working conditions, economic welfare and safety at work – i.e., virtually anything; 3) a prohibition forbidding lawmakers from ever interfering with, negating or diminishing those rights; and 4) a prohibition against right-to-work laws.

Taken together, these provisions would give union leaders more power than state lawmakers. The ability of union leaders to override state laws by negotiating contrary provisions into union contracts would be permanently enshrined in the Illinois Constitution. And most government unions would have the perpetual right to call strikes to ensure their demands for such provisions are met – a tactic the Chicago Teachers Union, for one, threatens to use for its social agenda on housing, immigration, “restorative justice,” wealth redistribution and defunding the police.

That’s not a set of powers any other state constitution sees a need to protect.

In fact, most states don’t even address labor-related issues in their constitutions. A very small minority of state constitutions include language granting labor rights to workers in the state – yet even most of those allow for restrictions on union power. No other state in the nation prohibits right-to-work in its constitution.

Illinois is already an outlier among its neighbors when it comes to granting government unions power through state statutes. If Amendment 1 were to pass, it would cement that power in the state constitution, making government unions in Illinois more powerful than in any other state.

Most state constitutions don’t include labor provisions

The majority of states don’t include any language related to labor unions or organizing rights in their constitutions.

Amendment 1 bucks the national norm.

Notably, Illinois’ government workers don’t need this amendment. They are already granted broad rights through the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, for public education employees, and the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, for other state and local government employees.

Plus, the Illinois Constitution is where government operations are defined – not where a certain economic policy is favored or where one group gains special treatment at the expense of others.

There’s a reason most states don’t include labor policy in their constitutions: that’s not where labor policy belongs.

A small minority of state constitutions include language granting labor rights – yet most of those allow for restrictions on union power

Most state constitutions with labor rights provisions allow for legislative limits on union power. Amendment 1 does the opposite, limiting lawmakers’ legislative authority over labor issues.

At least two states limit the type of workers affected by their constitutional provisions. The provision in Michigan allows collective bargaining over virtually any subject but pertains only to state police troopers and sergeants. Similarly, the provision in Oregon pertains only to home care providers who receive government funding. Conversely, the language in Amendment 1 includes no limits and pertains to all employees in the public and private sectors.

While Hawaii, Utah and Wyoming all include provisions granting labor rights, each of those provisions also grants legislative authority to outline or limit those rights. Hawaii provides public employees a right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining “as provided by law,” allowing some legislative leeway. Utah and Wyoming both provide the “rights of labor shall have just protection through laws….” Instead of tying the hands of lawmakers, these provisions leave it to state legislatures to determine the appropriate scope of the labor rights enumerated.

And Florida, while it includes language guaranteeing the right of employees to bargain, also explicitly prohibits strikes by public employees.

Amendment 1 does the opposite. Instead of limiting union power, it limits the ability of lawmakers to govern.

And even the broader provisions in Missouri, New Jersey and New York do not go as far as Amendment 1. Each provides for the right of workers to bargain through representatives of their own choosing, but the provisions stop there. They do not label the right a “fundamental right,” mandate that virtually any subjects can be negotiated into union contracts or prohibit elected lawmakers from further defining the scope of union rights.

In fact, no other state constitution limits legislative power over government unions. Illinois would be the first.*

No state constitutions ban right-to-work

While nine state constitutions include right-to-work language, those provisions all grant workers the ability to determine for themselves whether to join and pay a union. No state constitutions include a ban on right-to-work.

Amendment 1 would make Illinois the first state in the nation to prohibit an economic policy that has been approved by the majority of states.

Amendment 1 goes farther than any provisions in any state constitution

If Amendment 1 passes in November 2022, it would be the first constitutional provision of its kind in the nation. It would be:

  • The first to make organizing and bargaining a “fundamental right”
  • The first to allow negotiations over limitless subjects
  • The first to prohibit lawmakers from limiting union power
  • The first to ban right-to-work.

This amendment would hand over more power to unaccountable union leaders than elected state lawmakers possess. Guaranteeing this kind of union power through a constitutional protection would make it the most extreme constitutional provision in the nation.

*There are three other state constitutions with provisions related to labor, but those provisions do not guarantee or limit rights. Nevada allows collective bargaining agreements to waive minimum wage; Pennsylvania allows its General Assembly to enact laws providing that the findings of panels or commissions related to collective bargaining between police officers and firemen and their employers to be binding; and South Carolina guarantees the right to secret ballots in union elections.

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