Illinois parents, teachers sue to get unconstitutional union boost off ballot
Amendment 1, billed as a “Workers' Rights Amendment,” actually covers so much more that it violates the U.S. Constitution. Parents and teachers worrying about it emboldening already militant teachers unions are suing to get it off the ballot.
Two of Sarah Sachen’s four children have learning disabilities. When union bosses closed schools in early 2021 and early 2022 to strike over in-person teaching plans, Sachen’s children suffered.
“My middle two, in sixth and third grade, are on Individualized Education Plans, and are still over a year behind due to the school closures. Remote learning is dreadful for children with special needs. It’s so difficult to catch them up,” Sachen said. “They went back two whole weeks, and then they were sent home due to the strike. It is so cruel. The strike just disrupts everything because you’re ripping schedules out from children who are used to a defined structure.”
But the Chicago Teachers Union isn’t content with the power they already possess over Sachen’s children. They are pushing an amendment to the Illinois Constitution to expand their ability to bargain and strike over a much wider range of topics, including its social agenda on housing, immigration, “restorative justice,” wealth redistribution and defunding the police.
Sachen sees the threat to her children in the proposal dubbed Amendment 1. She, another Chicago Public Schools parent and two teachers filed a petition in state court asking that the Illinois State Board of Elections remove the question from the ballot because it oversteps national labor relations law and is therefore unconstitutional.
They are represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a national nonprofit law firm, and the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization. Unions pushed for the amendment, calling it the “Workers’ Rights Amendment,” and got the Illinois General Assembly in 2021 to put it on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Amendment 1 claims to give any employee – from either private businesses or government – a “fundamental right” to engage in collective bargaining for various reasons. But the National Labor Relations Act governs private-sector collective bargaining nationwide – and preempts state laws that would attempt to do so. The plaintiffs argue the proposal is unconstitutional and are seeking a court order directing state leaders to keep it off the ballot.
Of particular concern to the plaintiffs is that the NLRA limits the subjects of mandatory collective bargaining to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. In the past 10 years, CTU has walked out five times over affordable housing, mental health and other bargaining terms that were not wages and hours.
“Amendment 1 violates the U.S. Constitution and must be taken off the ballot. Federal law protects and regulates collective bargaining in the private sector,” said Jacob Huebert, president of the Liberty Justice Center. “This attempt to create a state-law right to private-sector collective bargaining on top of that violates federal law and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that unconstitutional proposals cannot go before the voters, so the courts should order state officials to remove Amendment 1 from the ballot.”
The change would cement teacher strikes into the constitution in a state that has already seen 48 school disruptions in 10 years. If passed, the amendment would prohibit lawmakers from ever limiting what unions could demand or when they could strike. None of the states bordering Illinois even allow teachers to strike.
“I am signing on as a plaintiff because my family has been so negatively impacted by teachers’ strikes and work refusals,” Sachen said. “Amendment 1 poses a danger to my family; more CTU strikes would mean a deeper learning loss for my children and further burdens for me.”
Amendment 1 poses a threat to all Illinoisans.
It would make permanent or worsen skyrocketing pension debt, leading to continued tax increases to pay for benefits to the few at the expense of many taxpayers. It would also make rooting out corruption and bad actors even more difficult as laws set in place to reduce corruption could be overruled by collective bargaining agreements.
The amendment would preempt laws put in place to protect children and families, potentially leading to more unnecessary harm to the state’s most vulnerable and making reform virtually impossible. Lawmakers and voters would always be overruled by union demands.
Mailee Smith, director of labor policy and staff attorney for the Illinois Policy Institute, said, “The language as written in Amendment 1 is too broad. If Illinois were seeking solely to make right-to-work unconstitutional in Illinois, the phrasing would have reflected that, as it did in a previous version of this amendment filed in 2019. Instead, the current phrasing creates a litany of problems, could lead to unparalleled power by a special interest group and most importantly, is unconstitutional.”
Ultimately, union bosses who don’t answer to voters would control state income taxes and local property taxes through the power to negotiate and strike over anything they wish. Taxpayers and their elected representatives would be relatively powerless to pull back on the powers of a special interest group whose “rights” have constitutional protection in a state where union contracts can already overpower state law.
The lawsuit was filed April 21, 2022, in the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court in Sangamon County.
To read the lawsuit, click here.
Who are the plaintiffs?