Wall Street Journal

A Big Labor Takeover in Illinois

August 29, 2022

(The Wall Street Journal)—Amendment 1 would further entrench the power of public unions.

Public unions already dominate government in Illinois, and Democratic lawmakers now want to amend the constitution to entrench that power and block reforms. Those are the stakes of Amendment 1, which will appear on the November ballot.

Democratic supermajorities in the state House and Senate voted last year to put the measure before voters. Amendment 1 would change the Illinois Constitution to read that “employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.”

The National Labor Relations Act already governs private workers and limits who can bargain about what. Illinois can’t expand the collective-bargaining rights of private employees beyond what federal law allows.

Democratic state Sen. Ram Villivalam, who is sponsoring the measure, admitted as much last year. “The Amendment refers to ‘employees,’ and not workers or individuals,” he said. “This was done with intention. As the Members of the House should be aware, the National Labor Relations Act governs organizing and collective bargaining in the private sector and, as such, preempts any direct State regulation on the subject.” He added that Amendment 1 thus “could not apply to the private sector.”

Proponents nonetheless advertise Amendment 1 as protection for “all Illinoisans.” This looks like an intentional attempt to mislead voters, since the union-backed Vote Yes for Workers’ Rights also claims this will benefit “first responders like nurses, firefighters, and EMTs”—categories that include private workers.

Wages and hours are already fair game for bargaining under federal and state law. But Amendment 1 would expand eligible subjects to include anything that affects workers’ “economic welfare and safety at work.”

If you think teachers unions are powerful now, wait until this passes. Amendment 1 would bar the Legislature from passing anything that “interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment and work place safety.”

The Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank, says this means that “contracts created under Amendment 1 will carry the weight of the constitution, allowing government unions to override state laws.” It has identified more than 350 state laws the amendment may imperil, and Amendment 1 also includes an explicit prohibition on a right-to-work law.

The Illinois Policy Institute and the Liberty Justice Center, a public interest litigation firm, sued this spring to block Amendment 1 from the November ballot. Because the plain language of the text contradicts the National Labor Relations Act, they say it violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

They lost in county circuit court and on Friday in state appellate court, and they plan to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case. But it appears that voters will now have to prevent this union takeover of state government and its dire implications for education and the state economy and public finances.