Illinois already has most extreme labor laws in U.S.

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith

Hannah Max

Policy Research Assistant

Hannah Max
November 4, 2022

Illinois already has most extreme labor laws in U.S.

Illinois law already allows some government union contracts to override state law. Amendment 1 would allow all government union contracts to do so.

Some government unions in Illinois have a right to void state and local law simply by writing contrary provisions into their collective bargaining agreements.

It sounds crazy. Yet it’s there in black and white:

“…any collective bargaining contract between a public employer and a labor organization executed pursuant to this Act shall supersede any contrary statutes, charters, ordinances, rules or regulations relating to wages, hours and conditions of employment and employment relations adopted by the public employer or its agents.”

For now, this right applies only to some government unions, such as those representing state and local government workers. It doesn’t include teachers unions.

But if Amendment 1 passes Nov. 8, all government union contracts will carry the weight of the state constitution and could trump state and local laws – forever.

What might that look like? Removing background checks for government employees who work with children. Mandatory student immunizations not currently required by state law. Secret government contracts.

In fact, there are more than 350 state laws government union leaders could override through collective bargaining agreements if Amendment 1 passes.

No other state has a provision so broadly allowing contracts to trump state and local laws.

Combined with the fact Illinois already provides some of the most robust government union protections – and is the only state in the region that doesn’t prohibit all or most government workers from going on strike – it’s clear Illinois already has the most far-reaching labor laws in the U.S.

And that means enacting Amendment 1 isn’t necessary to protect Illinois’ state and local government workers. They are already well protected.

Instead, Amendment 1 is a power play by government union leaders who want the power to enact their political and social agendas at the bargaining table rather than through elected leaders, like regular Illinoisans must do.

Illinois is the only state broadly granting more power to union contracts than to state law

Illinois already allows many government union contracts to override state and local laws, even if Amendment 1 does not pass. If there is a conflict between the contract and the law, the contract language wins out.

In addition to the language cited above, Illinois law states, “In case of any conflict between the provisions of this Act and any other law… the provisions of this Act or any collective bargaining agreement negotiated thereunder shall prevail and control.”

That language is found in the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, which excludes public school educators but applies to nearly all other state and local government workers.

An Illinois Policy Institute review of all 50 states’ labor laws revealed no other state gives such extreme power to government unions to override state and local laws through a collective bargaining agreement, and without limitation.

The state that comes closest is Connecticut, but even its provisions provide limitations and are not all-inclusive like Illinois’ law.

Connecticut does not allow collective bargaining agreements for state employees to override the state’s Freedom of Information Act and only allows other matters to override state law if they are “matters appropriate to collective bargaining.” What’s more, those contracts have to be approved by the appropriate legislative body – essentially putting any deviations from law through the legislative process. It provides the same processes for municipal employees’ contracts and any potential conflict with municipal law.

It is more common for states to do the opposite: explicitly prohibit conflicts between union contracts and state or local laws. These include, but are not limited to, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Iowa , Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont. All maintain one or more provisions prohibiting conflicts between union contracts and state or local laws.

Illinois already maintains some of the broadest labor laws in the nation

In addition to giving some government union contracts more power than law, Illinois also provides other extensive labor laws. Pro-labor sources agree. For example, the Economic Policy Institute, citing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, considers Illinois a state with “comprehensive bargaining rights.”

The difference between Illinois and neighboring states is particularly stark. For example, Illinois is the only state that does not prohibit government union strikes by all or most government workers – including teachers.

In other words, every one of Illinois’ neighboring states has attempted to strike a balance between collective bargaining rights and their effect on taxpayers. Illinois is an outlier.

Amendment 1 would push Illinois even farther from achieving that balance.

Rather than going through the legislative process, government unions would be able to make political demands at the bargaining table – and maintain a permanent power to go on strike to get those demands met.

That means lawmakers aren’t just prohibited by the amendment from enacting labor or other taxpayer-friendly reforms – their authority and the voice of the people would be completely subverted by the power of government union leaders.

Illinois government workers are already given the most far-reaching collective bargaining rights in the nation. Amendment 1 is nothing more than a power grab by government union leaders seeking to skip the democratic process in order to dictate legislation through their union contracts.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!