Illinois has long been a stronghold of government-union power. Time will tell if a state constitutional amendment that would cement union power as a “fundamental right” in the state constitution is a step too far for the state’s residents. Passed in May by the Illinois General Assembly, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 11 will appear on the ballot on November 8, 2022. Framed as a right-to-work ban, the bill in fact would give government unions in Illinois extraordinary power over taxpayers and those dependent upon government services forever, absent a future amendment.
Applying broadly to all “employees” in the state, the bill would create a “fundamental right” to organize and bargain through a union, placing union organizing on par with freedoms of speech and religion. As part of that right, union leaders would enjoy a constitutionally guaranteed ability to negotiate over “wages, hours, and working conditions,” as well as over “economic welfare” and “safety at work”—in other words, over virtually everything. The amendment would also forbid the state and its local governments from passing any law that “interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and workplace safety.”
If SRJCA 11 passes, Illinoisans will see less accountability and higher costs across government. Union executives would wield tremendous influence over how government operates. Lawmakers couldn’t decide to limit collective bargaining to government employees, and couldn’t pass legislation limiting the subjects that can be negotiated into government-union contracts.
Along with the power to bargain comes, for most Illinois government workers, the right to go on strike. This year, parents of Illinois public school children got a hint of how this power would play out. Teachers’ unions used collective bargaining to shut down efforts to get kids back to school in person. Parents saw that they had no say in decisions affecting their children. The Chicago Teachers Union tried to include such non-education issues as rent abatement and defunding police in its school reopening demands. SJRCA 11 paves the way for unions to claim that a broad range of subjects be negotiated. Lawmakers wouldn’t be able to limit union demands or pull back on union strike rights over such issues.
And that’s just teachers’ unions. Police reforms would also be undermined if SJRCA 11 passes. Under the amendment, police unions would enjoy a permanent right to negotiate provisions into contracts that inhibit investigation and discipline of bad actors.
To make matters worse, the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act already includes a provision that gives union contracts more power than state law. If a conflict exists between what’s in the law and what’s in a government-union contract, the contract prevails. Lawmakers could never repeal that provision under the amendment, as such a move would be seen as undermining the right to bargain collectively. Whatever a collective bargaining agreement contains would be the law of the land, and union leaders would have strike powers or other constitutionally guaranteed rights to get what they want into those contracts.
What about Illinois taxpayers? They would be on the hook for paying for whatever is negotiated into those contracts. The amendment essentially guarantees future tax hikes to pay for union benefits, which would become more and more costly if unions can negotiate with such authority and lawmakers can do little to limit their demands.
A state’s constitution is supposed to limit government power over citizens and protect residents’ rights. But if SJRCA 11 passes this November, the Illinois Constitution will allow unelected union executives to reign, and citizens merely to serve.
Photo by Daniel Acker for The Washington Post via Getty Images