What’s next for Amendment 1?

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
December 26, 2022

What’s next for Amendment 1?

Now that the Illinois Constitution has been amended to expand government union power, residents can expect to see costly government union demands, increased taxes and litigation to clarify its vague language.

The Illinois State Board of Elections certified the November election results Dec. 5, adding the proposed Amendment 1 to the Illinois Constitution.

Constitutional amendments require either 60% of those voting on the question to vote “yes” or a simple majority of all ballots cast in the election to approve the measure. Amendment 1 failed to reach the 60% threshold on the question but passed with a simple majority of all voters.

Now that it’s official, Illinois residents should be watching for at least three consequences: 1) costly government union demands in negotiations, 2) increased cost of government passed on to taxpayers and 3) litigation to clarify the amendment’s first-of-its-kind language.

Costly government union demands

Even before the amendment passed, the right to negotiate in Illinois was quite broad. Negotiations between the unions representing state and local government workers, including teachers, covered wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. Unlike most of our neighboring states, there were no limits to the wages and benefits government unions could demand.

But Amendment 1 expands bargaining to encompass broad new subjects, including “economic welfare” and “safety at work.” There is no definition or case law explaining what those terms mean. They could encompass virtually anything.

The Chicago Teachers Union has already tried to negotiate broad, non-traditional “economic” subjects into their contract with Chicago Public Schools, such as affordable housing. The Boston Teachers Union recently took a page out of CTU’s playbook when it negotiated the creation of 4,000 units of housing for homeless students into its contract. While the provision may seem altruistic in nature, the creation of housing for students is not traditionally negotiated into teacher contracts. It forces taxpayers to fund public policy decisions that their elected leaders should debate.

Amendment 1 empowers government union leaders to demand more than ever before and ensures they will have a permanent right to strike to get those demands met.

It’s definitely something to watch as government union contracts expire and are renegotiated under Amendment 1. While CTU’s contract doesn’t expire until 2024, there are approximately 30 state contracts – including the AFSCME Council 31 contract – that expire in 2023.

Increased cost of government, higher taxes

Government union contracts cost money. For example, the current CTU contract, which was ratified before Amendment 1 passed, is estimated to cost $1.5 billion.

But now that government unions can make demands about a wider range of subjects in their contracts, the cost of those contracts will increase. For example, CTU could again push for expensive, non-traditional provisions such as the creation of affordable housing, but this time with the weight of the constitution supporting the demand. The cost of that housing program would increase the cost of the overall contract and create new taxation.

While districts receive some state and federal funds, the bulk of school district revenue is from property taxes. In other words, taxpayers will be directly on the hook for the increased cost of government generated by costly new union contracts.

Litigation to clarify the amendment’s broad language

The broad language in Amendment 1 makes litigation likely. The new and undefined terms, such as “economic welfare,” could undergo years of lawsuits as courts determine their scope. Employers and government union leaders will disagree on what falls under that category, and those disagreements will end up in court. Even the term “employee,” as used in the amendment, is uncertain. Legally, it cannot apply to private-sector employees because it is preempted by federal law, but it may take a court decision to make that official determination.

Proponents of Amendment 1 misleadingly claimed it was a protection for all workers. In reality, it is a boon to government union power that will increase taxes and solidify Illinois’ reputation as one of the worst places in the nation to do business. Now that it has passed, Illinoisans should be on guard against the ways unions attempt to wield their new power.

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