What voters should know about how amending Illinois’ constitution will boost government union power

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
June 10, 2021

What voters should know about how amending Illinois’ constitution will boost government union power

State lawmakers are asking voters to enshrine union powers in the Illinois Constitution. Here’s what to know before deciding the question on the November 2022 ballot.

State lawmakers this spring passed Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 11, a proposal to change the Illinois Constitution and increase government union powers that voters will be asked to decide Nov. 8, 2022.

Proponents have dubbed this the “Workers’ Rights Amendment” and claim it will only serve to place in the constitution a ban on right-to-work. Right-to-work is a guarantee that individuals can earn a living without being compelled to join a union. However, the text of the amendment is much broader than simply banning right-to-work.

The text of SJRCA 11 has a limited impact on private-sector employees, because federal law governs most of their union powers. The greater potential is for it to impact Illinois’ government unions if approved  in November 2022, guaranteeing unchecked public union power in Illinois that translates into higher costs to taxpayers.

Government union implications

What it does:

  • Creates a “fundamental right” to collective bargaining, and nothing can “interfere with, negate, or diminish” the right to collectively bargain.
  • Creates a “fundamental right” to negotiate over wages, hours, working conditions, economic welfare and safety – a virtually limitless array of subjects. And again, nothing can interfere, negate or diminish that right.
  • Lawmakers could never pull back on these rights. Government unions will have the right to bargain over any and all subjects for perpetuity.
  • Collective bargaining agreements will carry the weight of the state constitution. Section 15 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act guarantees that collective bargaining agreements override state or local law when there is a conflict between provisions. Union leaders will be able to override any state law by bargaining provisions into the contracts and have the backing of the labor act plus the backing of the Illinois Constitution. This does not apply to public-sector education workers because

they are governed by a different law, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, which does not have a similar provision.

  • The language is vague and undefined, allowing for a number of harmful interpretations.
  • Examples of the excessive nature of the amendment:

○ Unions such as the Chicago Teachers Union will argue they have the right to bargain over anything, such as rent abatement and defunding the police. That increases the likelihood of strikes: when there are more subjects over which to bargain, there is a higher likelihood of disagreement, impasse and a strike.

○ Police unions will be guaranteed the right to negotiate over investigation and disciplinary procedures when officers are accused of misconduct, preventing potential police reforms.

○ Lawmakers cannot pull back on anything currently in state law, such as the right to strike, because it would be seen as diminishing a right to bargain.

○ Taxpayers will be locked into paying for the costly provisions that arise out of the contracts bargained for under this amendment.

What it doesn’t do:

  • It does not affect “right-to-work” for public employees. State and local government workers’ freedom to determine for themselves whether to belong and pay dues to a union is guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision.

Private-sector implications

What it does:

  • The amendment would ban right-to-work in the Illinois Constitution. It would stop the state from guaranteeing private employees the freedom to decide whether to join a union – a right available to workers in 27 other states, including all of Illinois’ neighbors except Missouri.
  • It would be the first state constitutional amendment of its kind. No other state bans right-to-work in its constitution.

What it does not do:

  • There are no other implications for the private sector because federal law governs labor relations in this space. This amendment takes advantage of the one carve-out that allows states to determine the status of right-to-work.

Amendment passage

This amendment faces the same threshold for passage at the ballot box as the progressive

income tax amendment voters rejected in November 2020 – a simple majority of all Illinoisans voting in the election or 60% of those voting on the ballot question. Click here for an explanation of the votes required to pass a state constitutional amendment.

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