Busting 3 myths in the ‘Workers’ Rights Amendment’ ads

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
November 2, 2022

Busting 3 myths in the ‘Workers’ Rights Amendment’ ads

Down to the wire, and three myths are still being pushed by 'Workers' Rights Amendment' advocates. Affects all workers? False. Other states do it? False. Won't increase property taxes? False.

Election Day is nearly here and the political messages keep coming about the “Workers’ Rights Amendment.” Too bad those pushing it are still spreading three myths about the proposal atop the Nov. 8 ballot.

Here are the most-often repeated myths, followed by the truths Illinoisans need to know before voting on Amendment 1.

Myth: The rights created by Amendment 1 apply to all workers

Fact: The rights created by Amendment 1 cannot apply to private-sector workers

The language in Amendment 1 appears to apply to all “employees” in Illinois – both in the private and public sectors.

But the National Labor Relations Act governs private-sector collective bargaining nationwide. Anytime the federal government occupies a space, it preempts state laws that would attempt to do so.

Even the amendment’s sponsor in the Illinois Senate said it could not apply to the private sector.

State Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, said: “As the Members of the house should be aware, the National Labor Relations Act governs organizing and collective bargaining in the private sector and, as such, preempts any direct State regulation of the subject. Therefore, as federal law stands today, labor – excuse me, therefore, as federal labor law stands today, the Amendment could not apply to the private sector.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has already made it explicitly clear that the NLRA precludes states such as Illinois from providing rights or regulating unionization in the private sector: “States may not regulate activity that the NLRA protects, prohibits, or arguably protects or prohibits.”

Because the federal government already regulates collective bargaining in the private sector, Illinois cannot do so through Amendment 1.

That means the “fundamental right” it creates for “employees” is really only for government workers in Illinois, which make up just 7% of the state’s adult working population.

The only part of Amendment 1 that could apply in the private sector is the last provision, which bans laws that would allow private-sector union workers to decide for themselves whether to join or pay a union. But that provision is a restriction on – not a right granted to – private-sector union workers, and it bucks the trend of the majority of states.

Myth: Three other state constitutions have provisions like Amendment 1

Fact: No states have any provisions like those in Amendment 1

Proponents claim other state constitutions, such as Hawaii, Missouri and New York include collective bargaining provisions similar to Amendment 1. All it takes is a quick review of the language in those state constitutions to see proponents are not being forthright in their claims:

Hawaii, Art. XIII:

Private employees

Section 1. Persons in private employment shall have the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining.

Public employees

Section 2. Persons in public employment shall have the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining as provided by law.

Missouri, Art. 1, Sec. 29

Organized labor and collective bargaining – The employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.

New York, Art. 1, Sec. 17

Employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.

Compare that to the language in Amendment 1:

(1) Employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing (2) for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work. (3) 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 workplace safety, (4) including 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. (Numbering added).

No states have any of these provisions, let alone all four.

In fact, Hawaii includes a phrase – “as provided by law” – giving deference to state lawmakers. Amendment 1 does the opposite, prohibiting lawmakers from acting (No. 3 above).

Myth: Amendment 1 will help our economy

Fact: Amendment 1 will drive up taxes and drive out business

Government union contracts already cost taxpayers money. Example: the total annual cost of the previous Chicago Teachers Union contract was $2.6 billion in its final year, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But Amendment 1 broadens the demands government unions could make beyond wages and benefits to include undefined new subjects such as “economic welfare.” Those increased demands mean government contracts would cost even more money.

And that means taxpayers would be stuck in an endless feedback loop of higher government costs and rising taxes if Amendment 1 passes in November.

Illinoisans are already facing financial hardships. We have the second-highest property taxes in the nation. We lead the nation in foreclosures.

And we already have a reputation for being one of the worst places in the nation to do business. That has been evidenced by major companies, such as CaterpillarBoeing, Citadel, FTX, Highland Ventures and Tyson announcing moves to more business-friendly states this year. Research shows the contracts negotiated by state government unions have hurt our economy and cut job creation.

What Illinoisans need is relief. Not more taxes.

While the rights created in the amendment apply to just 7% of the state’s adult working population, the taxes it necessitates will hit everyone.

The rights created don’t apply to the vast majority of Illinoisans. No other state has tried it. And it will drive up taxes and hurt our economy.

And that means it will hurt far more people than it could ever help if it were to pass on Nov. 8.

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