Lawmakers seek to place nation’s first job-killing amendment in Illinois Constitution

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
February 5, 2020

Lawmakers seek to place nation’s first job-killing amendment in Illinois Constitution

A proposal in the Illinois General Assembly would prohibit right-to-work laws in Illinois, making Illinois the only state in the nation to ban the policy in a state constitution.

Illinois’ economic growth already lags the rest of the nation, so common sense would tell state lawmakers to avoid policies that make it worse.

Yet a proposed constitutional amendment would take Illinois a step backward. If enacted and passed by ballot measure, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 37 would incorporate a ban on right-to-work laws directly in the state’s constitution.

Instead of focusing on fixing Illinois’ economic woes, politicians are kowtowing to labor interest groups, abusing the purpose of the state constitution, cluttering it with policy preferences and placing Illinois at odds with the more pro-growth policies of the majority of states.

In areas with a right-to-work law, workers in the private sector have the right to form unions, but nonmembers cannot be required to pay fees to a union in order to keep their jobs. Right to work already exists for workers in the public sector following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME.

From a legal perspective, the state constitution is the wrong place to wage a battle over economic policy.

Constitutions exist to establish the structure of government and, importantly, to protect people from the government – not to force one particular interest group’s policy preferences on the people. If lawmakers move forward with this legislation, Illinois could become the only state in the nation banning right-to-work laws in its state constitution.

Such a policy provision – and particularly one that enshrines sharply contested ideas – does not belong in the state constitution. It undermines the purpose of the state constitution by cluttering it with policy preferences, while also tying the hands of future lawmakers should subsequent events make them want to reconsider the policy.

The proposal is a bald-faced power play by a politically connected and powerful union. The proposal may drive union turnout in the November 2020 election, which could then affect the outcome of the progressive tax amendment that would be on the same ballot.

An amendment to ban right-to-work directly in the Illinois Constitution would also severely weaken the state’s already-shaky labor market.

Illinois jobs grew at only half the rate as the rest of the nation last year, and more people have been leaving the state than coming in for six years straight. If Illinois has any chance of boosting its jobs market, it’s not through doubling down on laws that can crush competition.

Currently 27 states – and nearly all of Illinois’ neighbors – are right-to-work states. If Illinois is going to compete with its Midwestern neighbors, banning right-to-work in the state constitution is not the way to go.

That Illinois’ legal landscape repels business isn’t merely theoretical. Rockford-area residents learned this the hard way in 2017, when Toyota bypassed the state as the site for a new $1.6 billion facility. One of the main reasons Rockford lost out: the state’s failure to adopt a right-to-work law, as reported by Crain’s at the time.

How many businesses must Illinois lose before its politicians get the message?

A constitutional amendment would mean the General Assembly could never allow right-to-work for private sector employees without first amending the state constitution again.

There’s a reason no other states have banned right-to-work directly in their state constitutions. It’s a drastic, politically motivated move with even more severe implications for jobs in Illinois.

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