California considers misleading labor amendment modeled after Illinois’ Amendment 1

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
June 13, 2023

California considers misleading labor amendment modeled after Illinois’ Amendment 1

Illinois labor leaders claimed their push to enshrine public union supremacy in the Illinois Constitution was the “blueprint” for other states. Now both California and Pennsylvania are following Illinois’ lead.

Illinois has long been a bastion of union power, with unions nationwide taking their cues from what goes on in Illinois.

The latest example: the California State Assembly is considering a labor amendment worded similarly to Illinois’ Amendment 1, which was passed by Illinois voters in November.

It’s not the first. Unions in Pennsylvania are pushing an amendment worded exactly like Illinois’ Amendment 1.

If passed by both chambers, the California amendment would appear on the ballot in the 2024 general election. The Pennsylvania amendment would be on the ballot in the 2025 primary if adopted by the legislature in two consecutive sessions.

Voters in both states will likely be bombarded with false messages from unions trying to trick them into thinking the amendment will protect workers. But as in Illinois, collective bargaining in both California and Pennsylvania already is protected by federal and state laws. The amendments are not necessary. But they do have great potential to push up taxes.

Here are three facts voters in California and Pennsylvania should consider from the Illinois experience.

The amendment cannot apply to private-sector employees

The language in both proposed amendments appears to apply to all employees – 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 trying to occupy the same space.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already made it explicitly clear 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, states cannot do so through state laws or amendments. Even the Illinois amendment’s sponsor in the Illinois Senate said the amendment could not apply to the private sector.

The only part of the Illinois amendment that can apply in the private sector is the last provision, which bans laws that would allow private-sector union workers from deciding 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. That portion is in the proposed Pennsylvania amendment but not in the proposed California amendment.

The amendment will drive up the cost of government, necessitating higher taxes

While the proposed amendments cannot apply to private-sector unions, they do provide extensive power to government union leaders. Those leaders will be able to demand new contract provisions that will increase the cost of government.

Government union power already drives up taxpayers’ costs. Example: the current Chicago Teachers Union contract is estimated to cost taxpayers $1.5 billion, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But as in Illinois, the California and Pennsylvania proposed amendments’ language broadens the demands government unions can make beyond wages and benefits to include undefined new subjects such as “economic welfare.” That could mean virtually anything. During a debate before the passage of Amendment 1 in Illinois, professor and Amendment 1 proponent Elizabeth Tandy Shermer admitted, “We actually don’t know what’s going to be in these union contracts. We don’t know at all.”

Those increased demands mean government contracts will cost even more money than in the past. Not to mention the more subjects there are to negotiate, the longer the negotiations will take – and the higher the cost for attorneys to simply get the contract finalized.

That means taxpayers would be stuck in an endless loop of higher government costs and rising taxes under the amendment.

The amendment allows government unions to override state and local laws

The language of the proposed amendments gives government union leaders the extraordinary power to override laws through provisions in their collective bargaining agreements.

The amendments don’t just guarantee a right to bargain over typical labor issues such as wages and benefits. Instead, they add the generic terms “safety at work” and “economic welfare” to the mix of negotiable subjects – making the issues that can be negotiated virtually unlimited.

The language of the amendments also prohibits lawmakers from passing any laws interfering with, negating or diminishing their reach. That means lawmakers will never be able to limit what unions can demand in negotiations. They will never be able to restrict when government unions go on strike to get those demands met.

What’s more, the contracts created under the amendments will carry the weight of the state constitutions, allowing government unions to override state laws.

A review of Illinois’ state statutes revealed Amendment 1 would allow government unions to override more than 350 provisions related to schools, children and other residents.

When a similar amendment was attempted by unions in Michigan in 2012, then-Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette penned a memorandum explaining the amendment would overrule more than 170 existing Michigan laws.

After failing to pass the amendment in Michigan in 2012, unions waited 10 years before trying again.

Now that government unions have passed it in Illinois, they aren’t sitting back for another decade.

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