Amendment to Illinois Constitution is much more than right-to-work ban
The proposed constitutional amendment placed on the 2022 ballot by the Illinois General Assembly would put every provision in union contracts beyond the reach of state law.
Proponents say a constitutional amendment would be about keeping right-to-work out of Illinois, but what it really would do is boost the power of public employee unions to make demands that state law couldn’t control and taxpayers would be expected to fund.
The proposed constitutional amendment filed by state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, and passed by the Illinois General Assembly is now set to go to voters in the Nov. 8, 2022, general election. Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 11 is being sold by proponents as a barrier against any future legislation that would attempt to make Illinois a right-to-work state, where agreements mandating that private sector employees join or pay fees to a union as a condition of employment are prohibited.
But SJRCA 11 does more than that. The broad language could drastically expand the ability of public sector unions to strike, keep children out of public school classrooms and potentially hike taxes.
The amendment that proponents dub the “Workers’ Rights Amendment” would prohibit any law 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 workplace safety[.]” The specific prohibition against right-to-work laws is tacked on at the end of the language, almost as an afterthought, adding the prohibition would include “any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or application of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.”
Compare this amendment to the anti-right-to-work Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 13 filed by Villivalam in the previous General Assembly:
“Neither the State nor any political subdivision of the State may enact or enforce any law, ordinance, rule, regulation, or the like that by design or application prohibits, restricts, tends to restrict, or regulates the use of union security agreements between an employer and labor organization or other rights to unionize.”
SJRCA 13 is straightforward: no right-to-work laws allowed.
But SJRCA 11, the amendment just passed by the General Assembly and now headed to voters, opens Pandora’s box when it comes to collective bargaining in the public sector.
This amendment would put union contracts above laws passed by the democratically elected representatives of the people of Illinois and could prevent limits on the subjects of collective bargaining for public employees. For example, the General Assembly could pass a law mandating a certain level of background check for school bus drivers, or disciplinary procedures for teacher misconduct. Given that unions could challenge such laws as violating workers’ constitutional right to bargain collectively over such terms and conditions of employment, the amendment could potentially prevent such statutes from taking effect. It could also undo any measures that would rein in public school teachers’ right to strike.
The amendment could also put taxpayers on the hook for more costly provisions, as everything would be up for grabs in bargaining over government union contracts.
The language that prohibits any law 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 workplace safety” is so broad it is difficult to tell every potential provision that could fall under the amendment once passed. The interpretation would be hashed out in court as disputes arise.
Despite that uncertainty, Illinois lawmakers rolled the dice to see what happens. Voters need not.