Union Station: Illinois voters to decide whether to adopt collective bargaining amendment

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Illinois voters to decide whether to adopt collective bargaining amendment

Note: With the election around the corner, we’ll be taking a break from Union Station next week and helping support our results team efforts. The next edition of Union Station will arrive on Nov. 18. In the meantime, visit Ballotpedia for next week’s election results and ongoing analysis.

On Nov. 8, Illinois voters will decide on Illinois Amendment 1, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment stating that employees have a “fundamental right to organize and 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” and prohibiting any law that “interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively.” 

According to Law360, Illinois would be the first state to ban right-to-work laws in its constitution. Three other states—Hawaii, Missouri, and New York—provide a right to collective bargaining in their state constitutions. 

Let’s go through some background on the measure and see what supporters and opponents are saying about it.


Amendment 1 was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment No. 11 in May 2021. The resolution passed the Senate 49-7 and the House 80-30 that month. No Democrats voted against the resolution. Eleven Republicans in the Senate and nine Republicans in the House supported it. In Illinois, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment requires three-fifths approval from the members of both houses of the General Assembly. 

The proposed amendment 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 work place 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.”

For the amendment to be ratified, either 60% of those voting on the question must approve it, or a majority of those voting in the election must approve it. 

Legal challenge

In April 2022, a group of parents and teachers filed a petition in the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court in Sangamon County to have the amendment removed from the ballot. The petitioners said the National Labor Relations Act would preempt the amendment and claimed they had standing as taxpayers to sue to prevent the state from putting an unconstitutional amendment on the ballot. 

In May, Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow denied the petition, and in August, the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court upheld Grischow’s ruling. Read more about these decisions here and here.

The petitioners appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case on Sept. 20. 



  • Illinois AFL-CIO president Tim Drea said, “There’s a lot of concern about the political climate and how rights can be taken away. … People are very cognizant that everybody’s rights are at stake right now.” He also said, “[Former Republican Gov.] Bruce Rauner had a war on unions … It was quite the wake-up call. We had also seen in Wisconsin, a progressive state that led the nation in labor, Scott Walker wiped out collective bargaining for public employees.”
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D) said, “We will make sure Illinois says clearly that our workers’ rights are going to be protected. … State after state surrounding us, we will find ourselves a blue island in a red sea and many of these states are cutting back on the basic rights of workers.”
  • Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research fellow Daniel Galvin said, “A big important state like Illinois enshrining this right to their constitution sends a signal across the country that the right to bargain collectively is a fundamental right.”
  • Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) communications director Christine Geovanis said, “The CTU enthusiastically supports the Workers’ Rights Amendment on the November ballot, which guarantees the fundamental rights of workers to organize and have a voice in their workplaces — the very rights that Republicans across the country and right here in Illinois have been trying to undermine for years.”
  • Illinois Economic Policy Institute executive director Frank Manzo IV said, “The amendment is really intended to prevent politicians from enacting laws that interfere with the private negotiations of businesses and their workers. … And by doing so the amendment would protect middle class wages and benefits, and promote workplace safety.” Manzo also said, “Similar to recent decisions on reproductive rights at the Supreme Court level that have taken away rights that have long been held by a certain segment of the population and saying it’s kind of up to the states. … Should that happen for this segment of the population called workers, and rights are taken away at the federal level, or at least removed as being a federal right, or even if Congress were to just get rid of the National Labor Relations Act in a couple months, this would be an answer at the state level.”
  • Sen. Ram Villivalam (D) said, “[Illinois becoming a right-to-work state] is not a hypothetical scenario. … This policy was [pushed] by the previous governor. Future politicians can be different than the ones we have today. We would rather have this voted on by voters than have politicians in Springfield changing the law every four years.”
  • Rep. Lance Yednock (D) said, “When workers are free to bargain collectively, it leads to safer workplaces, enhanced skill levels and better economic conditions for all workers, whether or not they’re in a union.” 


  • The Chicago Tribune editorial board wrote, “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.” 
  • Liberty Justice Center president Jacob Huebert said, “They’re smuggling this in under something that might be more popular. It says, ‘We’re going to give rights to all employees,’ when really the state can only give them to public sector employees. A private sector employee might say, ‘More rights for me; I’ll vote for that.’ It’s hard to see this as anything other than deliberately deceptive.” 
  • Illinois Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Todd Maisch said, “I think it’s mostly another signal to the rest of the nation that Illinois is an outlier. … We continue to find ways to make this state unattractive to investment.”
  • Illinois Policy Institute vice president Adam Schuster said, “Amendment 1 would guarantee state and local taxes rise faster and higher than they have already. Analysis of a decade of data across all 50 states shows a strong statistical association between both: the power of government unions and a state’s average effective property tax rate, and the amount of debt owed to government unions and the overall amount of debt per taxpayer.” 
  • Illinois Policy Institute labor policy director and staff attorney Mailee Smith said, “The amendment’s extreme powers would elevate government unions’ influence in Illinois government above that of taxpayers and allow government unions’ collective bargaining agreements to override Illinois’ state law forever. … [T]hrough a provision that prevents lawmakers from ever limiting or clarifying the government unions’ collective bargaining methods, the amendment gives government union leaders a permanent right to strike to get their demands met. Government union leaders would forever hold the power to shut down critical government services until they get what they want.”
  • Illinois Republican Party chairman Don Tracy said, “This constitutional referendum grants super-legislative powers to union bosses that could only be changed by further constitutional referendums, not legislative action. … Illinois voters should reject Amendment 1 as the government union power grab and trojan horse pathway to tax increases that it is.”
  • The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote, “Public unions already dominate government in Illinois, and Democratic lawmakers now want to amend the constitution to entrench that power and block reforms. … 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.’” 

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 150 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

No public-sector union bills saw activity this week.

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