These days, the fight to pass bills and amendments typically begins with pithy — or, some might say, Orwellian — titles. Everyone knows that the controversial SAFE-T Act would have been more honestly described as the End Cash Bail Act, but Democrats clearly decided that everyone likes safety and therefore that name might just hide some of the legitimate worries about whether the bill would result in more violent criminals out on the street.
So it also goes with the so-called Workers’ Rights Amendment, as proposed to the Illinois Constitution. The naming theory here is that every decent person supports the rights of hardworking Illinoisans and, therefore, voters will be more likely to vote in favor.
In this, the first of the Tribune Editorial Board’s 2022 endorsements for the Nov. 8 elections, all to unspool here in coming days, we recommend you reject (to use the dryer, official name) Amendment One to the 1970 Illinois Constitution.
But first, here is what the amendment does.
In essence, Amendment One adds Section 25 to the Bill of Rights Article to the Illinois Constitution. It would enshrine a fundamental constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively and to negotiate salary and other working conditions. Any future state law that bars or restricts those rights would presumably be overruled by the amendment.
And thus, supporters say, workers will have better and more permanent protections in numerous areas, including whistleblower cases, safety violations and health issues. They also say there is a better chance of workers being able to secure higher wages.
Several Illinois unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois have expressed support for an amendment that, leaving aside any political spin, clearly would greatly increase the power of public sector labor unions. How voters view the amendment likely will turn on how they feel about such a change.
Simply put, the Illinois Constitution then would ban any right-to-work laws (not that Illinois actually has any such law), and employers would be able to require workers to pay dues to unions as a condition of employment — something unions generally like because it can otherwise be challenging to collect those dues.
Individual workers would not be able to choose whether or not they wanted to be a dues-paying member of a union if one was bargaining for them at their workplace.
And there, of course, read the rub. Or one rub among many.
That prohibition, potentially enshrined in the Illinois Constitution, conflicts with our rights as free Illinoisans to make those decisions for ourselves.
There are other issues with Amendment One.
Since federal law generally protects collective bargaining within the private sector, the principal beneficiaries of the amendment are public-sector employees. More specifically, the slippery term “economic welfare,” which could mean all kinds of things and, remember, the constitution is the mighty constitution when it comes to power structure of laws, and likely would result in greatly increased power for unions even beyond their core (and legitimate) collective bargaining functions.
They could argue that the “economic welfare” or “safety” function required collective bargaining in all kinds of new areas and use it as a kind of trump card in the face of existing or future laws that are not to their liking.
Unions could potentially have power over functions, such as teacher certification, that legitimately are the function of their government employers, as elected by the taxpayers who pay their salaries.
Unions should not be formulating general public policy at their headquarters. That’s the sacred mandate voters give to elected officials. And secretive union bosses could also use the amendment to keep government contracts out of the way of prying reporters whose job it is to tell you how your money is being spent.
Moreover, since the public sector also has to raise funds to cover its cost, the amendment seems likely to put pressure on property taxes and other sources of government revenues. We’ve not heard a viable counterargument to that. It certainly won’t reduce the size or expenses of government.
And, when you add such a scenario, the passage of the amendment would inevitably act as an additional reason not to locate your new business in Illinois, when other states already have a more friendly climate with less of a burden of taxation.
That’s the flip side of those claimed worker protections. After all, you have no protection if you have no job.
In order for the amendment to be ratified, three-fifths of those voting on the specific ballot measure, or a majority of those voting in the general election, must approve it.
We endorse a no vote. We support the rights of unions to represent their members and to bargain collectively for the best deal they can secure. But we do not see an Illinois threat to those rights and we see this endorsement as an opening to skew the balance of power in the public sector to an unacceptable degree.
Should the amendment pass, we anticipate serious negative consequences for the taxpayers of Illinois.
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