Our recommendation: ‘No’ on Amendment 1

When Illinois needs an amendment to the state Constitution to address a real problem like gerrymandering, the General Assembly somehow cannot find the votes to put a referendum on the ballot — even given Gov. JB Pritzker’s 2018 campaign promise on behalf of fair maps.

But when it comes to a problem that does not exist, when it’s a matter of serving the most powerful special interest in Springfield, when it offers a way to motivate Democratic voters to turn out for gubernatorial and legislative elections in a year when a red wave was expected, well, the Illinois General Assembly finds a way.

We recommend a “No” vote on Amendment 1 on the state’s Nov. 8 ballots not as an argument against unions. They are a bedrock of our society and our economy.

In Illinois, unions raise worker wages by an average of 11% and are credited in particular with helping to raise the middle class and thereby helping to reduce income inequality.

We recommend a “No” vote on Amendment 1 because it is not needed and because unneeded Constitutional provisions unwisely tie the hands of the people’s representatives and the representatives of future generations to deal with problems we may not even foresee today.

The amendment is fashionably described by proponents and sympathetic politicians as the Workers Rights Amendment.

We are disinclined to refer to it by that name, partly because the language is intentionally loaded, mainly because it is inaccurate. While it would strengthen workers rights in some ways, it would outlaw them in others.

For good or bad, for example, this amendment if enacted would effectively block the rights of some workers to refuse to join a union.

Collective Bargaining Amendment or Union Amendment are somewhat more accurate and less emotive options if we had to give it a name (and in headlines we must).

But for purposes of the text of this editorial, we will stick with Amendment 1.

While there has been some romantic mass market advertising on behalf of the amendment and relentless op-ed criticism by the virulent tax watchdog Illinois Policy Institute, the issue has largely fallen below this year’s election radar. Unless you’re a union member, you may not even be aware of it.

If you want to know more, by the way, you can find a worthwhile debate we and the Illinois AP News Editors hosted on the topic last month atdailyherald.com/news/20220929/watch-debate-over-the-state-referendum-on-amendment-1-about-unions.

Meanwhile, here’s what you’ll find on the ballot:

Amendment 1 would add the following language to Article I of the Illinois Constitution:

(a) 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. No law shall be passed 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 workplace safety, including any law or ordinance that prohibits the execution or application of agreements between employers and labor organizations that represent employees requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.

(b) The provisions of this Section are controlling over those of Section 6 of Article VII.

There are two key sentences.

One that starts with “Employees shall have the fundamental right ...” Here’s the thing. Employees already have these rights. Every one of them. Illinois is among the strongest union states in the country. And certainly, public employee unions in Illinois are extraordinarily powerful. These rights are not under threat.

For those who would nervously inject the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision into the conversation, please remember: the amendment would not fend off a national Supreme Court right-to-work ruling anyway.

In fact, it is questionable whether the amendment would have any impact on private employee unions, which are governed first by federal law.

The second starts with “No law shall be passed ...” This, frankly, is what we find troubling.

Who knows how a court might interpret the “terms and conditions” in that sentence?

Who knows how wide a court might presume the rights of public employees on matters of rules and policy might be?

And who knows what future challenges might be?

Who knows what reasonable laws might need to be enacted in the future that could be blocked by this amendment?

Recall how the legislature learned that it is almost powerless to address the alarming financial gap in public pensions because of provisions in the Illinois Constitution?

If there were a need for this amendment, we would be supportive. But there is no compelling need.

That being the case, the voters of 2022 ought not limit the rights of voters in 2072 or any other year to deal as they see fit with the challenges their era presents. Vote “No” on Amendment 1.