What You Need to Know About Special Treatment for Unions in the Illinois Constitution



If passed by voters in November 2022, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution would allow collective agreements to forever trump state law. This empowers union leaders more than state legislators – and voters.

State lawmakers decided this spring to ask voters to pass Amendment 1, a proposal to change the Illinois Constitution and increase the powers of government unions. Voters will determine his fate on November 8, 2022.

It’s dubbed a ‘workers rights amendment’, banning the right to work – but Amendment 1 is much more than this simplistic description suggests.

In fact, the amendment has four parts:

(1) Employees have the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their choice (2) for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours and working conditions, and protecting their property -be economical and their safety at work. (3) No law shall be passed that interferes with, denies or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours and other conditions of employment and workplace safety, (4 ) including any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or enforcement of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment. (Numbering added).

The right to work part only comes at the very end.

Examined one by one, these elements show that the amendment is much broader than what the promoters claim. This would give state government union leaders more power than even state legislators could have.

Here’s what’s inside when you dismantle Amendment 1:

(1) Employees have the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their choice …

What it says:

  • This amendment applies to anyone who is an “employee” in the State of Illinois.
  • The amendment creates a “fundamental right” to organize and negotiate through a trade union.

What this means:

  • This language is incredibly broad, and there is no wording in the amendment to limit its application. At first glance, it does not matter if the “employee” works for a government unit, for a private company or even for an individual. It broadly applies to all “employees”. Its coverage of private sector employees conflicts with national labor relations law.
  • Taken to its logical end, there is no limit on who can unionize. Arguably, lawmakers and legislative liaisons might be able to unionize because they are paid “employees” of the state. The current laws defining “employee” which exclude various positions can be interpreted as infringing the right of these employees to organize and to negotiate (see part 3) and would certainly require the opinion of a judge.
  • This right to organize and to negotiate has the same status as the freedoms of expression and religion.

(2) … In order to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions, and to protect their economic well-being and their safety at work.

What it says:

  • Employees have the right to bargain over wages, hours, working conditions, economic well-being and occupational safety.

What this means:

  • None of these negotiating topics are defined or limited, allowing unions to negotiate on a virtually unlimited range of topics.
  • Unions could claim just about anything that relates to these general terms.
  • For example, the Chicago Teachers Union, which has attempted to negotiate on issues such as police funding and rent modification, could attempt to claim a constitutional right to negotiate on these and other foreign matters. While in the past Chicago’s public schools might have said they did not have to negotiate on such matters, his right to refuse to negotiate would be called into question if the amendment passed. Again, a judge would need to clarify.
  • Additionally, negotiating on more topics can take longer and allow for more disagreement – and therefore more opportunities for a union to go on strike and interfere with the daily lives of the nearly 13 million people in the world. ‘Illinois.

(3) No law will be passed that interferes with, denies or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours and other conditions of employment and workplace safety …

What it says:

  • No law can be adopted which interferes with the right to organize.
  • No law can be passed that interferes with the right to negotiate.
  • No law can be passed that interferes with bargaining on the following subjects: wages, hours, other employment conditions and safety at work – that is to say practically anything.

What this means:

  • The hands of lawmakers will be tied; they will be unable to pass legislation restricting organization or negotiation because the provisions would interfere with the “fundamental right” of the amendment.
  • Lawmakers will not be able to restrict the term “employee” as this would interfere with the right to organize of excluded employees. Current laws that exclude various types of public employees from collective bargaining, such as managers and elected officials, can violate the constitution and potentially lead to litigation.
  • Lawmakers will not be able to refine the topics on which unions can negotiate. For example, lawmakers will not be able to pass legislation excluding investigations and disciplinary processes from police contracts, as this would interfere with the right of police service employees to negotiate terms of employment. The same goes for other types of employees and arrangements.
  • Lawmakers will not be able to limit the ability of employees to strike, as this would undermine the right to bargain and organize. It is currently a “right” for many Illinois public employees, and lawmakers will be prohibited from changing this, despite all of our neighboring states banning strikes by all or most public sector workers. .
  • Lawmakers will not be able to change the current labor provision that allows collective agreements of public sector unions to override conflicting laws, as this would interfere with the right to create these contracts through negotiation. In addition, other contracts currently not covered by this provision will now carry the weight of the constitution, which will also make them more powerful than state law.

(4) … Including any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or enforcement of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.

What it says:

  • Lawmakers are prohibited from passing laws prohibiting union membership.

What this means:

  • The right to work will be banned in Illinois, leaving most other states and most of Illinois’ neighbors.
  • Private sector workers in unionized workplaces will always be denied the right to decide for themselves whether they should pay dues or fees to a union.
  • While the wording is not limited to private sector employees, it will be unenforceable – and indeed unconstitutional with respect to – public sector workers because the United States Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME restored the right of public employees to choose not to pay dues or fees to public sector unions.

Put it all together

Dividing the amendment into its parts reveals how broad the amendment really is.

Taken together, these provisions could grant more power to unions than to Illinois state legislators:

  • Unions could override other laws by including conflicting provisions in their contracts. Lawmakers could never change that.
  • Unions could demand negotiations on these provisions, as the amendment guarantees virtually unlimited subjects for negotiation. Lawmakers could never change that.
  • Unions could go on strike to force government units to agree to these provisions. Lawmakers could never change that.

This amendment would empower irresponsible union leaders more than elected state lawmakers have. Securing union powers with constitutional protection no other special interest group has would ensure voters’ voices weaken, and voters in Illinois are already struggling to be heard in Springfield.


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