By John F Di Leo –
Launch YouTube, Facebook, or a search engine in Illinois these days – or worse, make the mistake of turning on the television – and you will likely be deluged with television commercials about the so-called “Workers’ Rights Amendment,” which will appear on our ballot across Illinois next month.
Depending on the commercial, this amendment could be presented as being about anything from patients in a hospital being viewed as dollar bills, or dangers in a workplace, or a threat to a worker’s right to unionize.
Talk about a proposed law being “all things to all people!”
In truth, this state constitutional amendment (referred to as Amendment 1) is indeed many things: on the one hand, it’s a big lie… In another way, it’s completely unnecessary… But worst of all, in yet another way, it is a Trojan horse for almost anything the activists or courts might want it to be.
The Proposed “Workers’ Rights Amendment”
Section 25. Workers’ Rights
(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.
Let’s begin with the lie: on its surface, this state constitutional amendment gives the impression that Illinois law makes it hard for workers to start or join a union, so this amendment is necessary because it would protect their rights to do so.
If Illinois were a “right to work” state – that is, a state in which union membership cannot be a condition of employment, and no employee can be forced to join a union – then it would make sense that union activists would favor this amendment; the amendment would overturn that right to work status. Right?
But Illinois is not a right-to-work state. We are a “closed-shop state,” exactly the kind of state that union activists like the most. Unions can already stage employee votes in which they can choose to unionize, and, once chartered, unions have immense power over their employers under the law.
The amendment’s supporters try to give the impression that this is needed because there are strong right-to-work efforts to overturn these abilities in Illinois. But it’s really untrue. However much Illinois would benefit from a Right to Work environment – and yes indeed, it would – the chances of such a switch are minimal, at best.
On top of that, where federal law governs, federal law outranks state law in these matters. So there is nothing that such an amendment could do to change the practice of unionization in the private sector in Illinois, or in the federal government sector, for that matter.
All it could do, really, is affect the already mostly unionized areas of state and local government. It could expand union membership there a bit. But in state and local government, most workers are already unionized. Police, clerks, teachers, etc. – the majority of our non-federal government employee pools – already belong to the SEIU, AFSME, the NEA, the CTU, and the many other affiliated unions that rule our bureaucrat-heavy state.
Are there state, county, and local government employees who are not yet unionized? Sure. A summer lifeguard job here, a part-time park district course instructor there… an adjunct professor at a community college here, an assistant village clerk there…
Perhaps some of them do want to be unionized. Maybe this amendment would make it marginally easier for them if they do.
Is it worth running the risk of a confusing, vague constitutional amendment just to give these few folks that ability?
The Democratic Party clearly thinks so. The Illinois Policy Institute and other analysts have determined that, if passed, our property taxes will go up by $2100 as a result. So, to that extent, yes, this is an expensive bill, simply because there are so many government employees in Illinois, that the costs add up very, very quickly when you do almost anything at all here.
Vague Law is Dangerous Law
More importantly, though, there is a fascinating part of this text, incredibly vague in scope, making almost anything possible.
Consider these words: “No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes…”
That could be a lot bigger than just protecting a union’s ability to operate.
What else might they mean by this?
Under federal law, an employer can share statistics with employees before a unionizing vote… They can share the truth of what a contract might mean to the employees and to the business’s future growth and operational success. An employer can share as much information as it wants to.… In the hope of convincing its employees regarding unionizing, contract offers, benefits packages, strike actions, etc.
But what have we seen in recent years, in social media?
If the censors don’t like what you have to say – even if absolutely true – they can squash it.
On what grounds? Facebook, Google, Twitter, or the current occupant of the White House, can simply determine that, in their judgment, certain information, even if true, is “harmful” from their perspective. They don’t like it, they don’t agree with it, and they are afraid that it will change the way people think about their policies. And so they censor it.
Yes, in outright defiance of the First Amendment. But that hasn’t stopped Facebook, Twitter, and Google from doing things in recent years that we would have shut down the phone company or postal service for attempting a generation ago. Until sanity returns to Washington, the censors remain in charge.
Is it a stretch to assume, from this specific wording, that this amendment is designed in part to legally enable a union to put a temporary or permanent gag order on both public and private employers in the state of Illinois?
This state is already bleeding employment at a record pace. Both residents and businesses are fleeing the state in massive numbers. Our tax base shrinks as our government spending expands.
Employers have the right to share these facts – and lots of others – with their employees. In the interest of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the first amendment, we all have the right, even the obligation, to share these facts.
Ten years ago, we would have said it was a ridiculous stretch to assume that such censorship could be intended by this simple text, in this short pro-union amendment. But today? We have to recognize this as a likely tool to enshrine otherwise illegal censorship in a state constitution.
Economic Welfare and Safety at Work
And now we come to this clause. Economic Welfare and Safety at Work. What does this mean?
This amendment begins with what appears to be a simple statement of union protection, much like the “whereas” clause at the beginning of a common convention resolution. Why are we doing this? To protect workers’ economic welfare and safety in the workplace. Of course. It’s almost a throwaway.
But don’t be so sure.
Consider how the federal Constitution has been abused over the past century. Consider how the “general welfare clause” – clearly intended as a simple justification for the ratification of the Constitution itself – has instead become a standalone justification for massive federal government intrusion at every level of our economy.
And now consider: How do people use the word “safety” today?
A decade ago, workplace safety was handled by such federal agencies as OSHA, EPA, and DOT/PHMSA. There were clear federal rules requiring that companies had to maintain an environment that protects their staff from the inherent risks in dealing with heavy equipment, dangerous chemicals, and so forth.
But how do people use the term “safety” today?
Refer to a boy by a male pronoun, and he says he doesn’t feel safe.
Refer to a minority by his or her demographics, whether negatively or positively, and that minority may claim that it threatens his “safety.”
Don’t do anything at all, and then, if something else, completely unrelated, happens to occur almost anywhere, and then a student or employee or customer or audience member, anyone at all, really… can demand a “safe space,” “safe treatment,” or any of a thousand other kinds of special treatment to “protect” the person who felt triggered, no matter whether it would seem reasonable to any sane person or not.
It looks like a stretch, I know. When you read the amendment alone, without context, it just seems like a normal pro-union statement, designed to ward off the risk that Illinois might become a right-to-work state, like so many other, more successful, states across the country.
But we must look at the context. We must consider the age in which we live.
This is an age in which one single clause can completely overwhelm the rest of an entire document.
Lessons from our Federal Constitution
Our federal constitution, beautifully composed in 1787, was designed for one purpose: to keep the federal government as limited as possible, for all time. It was written specifically to restrain the leviathan that all human governments always eventually become.
How did the modern Left take the limited government of our Founding Fathers and transform it into a socialist state? How did they go from the tiny federal government of the late 19th century to the Orwellian labyrinth of agencies and bureaus that we find ourselves battling today?
Just a couple of clauses, that’s all it took.
“Provide for the general welfare.” And “Regulate interstate commerce.”
That’s it. Without those two clauses, the federal government would be a third of its current size, if that. But those two clauses have been thoroughly abused, and with them, the entire constitution and our way of life.
A further problem: The constitutional doctrine of Originalism is essentially the idea that we should interpret the constitution according to the way its words were used at the time of its writing. This is a logical, sensible, and effective way of ensuring that we apply the US constitution as our Founding Fathers intended.
But even originalism will be used against us if we allow such a text to creep into our state constitution, in the form of an amendment today.
If we pass this amendment, and some employee, or a union, or class action lawyer files suit against an employer – private or public – claiming that something they did, some choice they made… like having both men’s and women’s restrooms instead of making them all unisex, for example… allegedly made them feel “unsafe”… won’t they be able to use this amendment in support of such a ridiculous lawsuit?
The abusive language is just one of the many crimes that modern Leftism commits against our nation every single day, but it may in fact be one of the biggest.
The simple fact is, upon close review, this amendment must be stopped, not just because of what it says it means, but because, in the current environment, it is written so that it could mean anything our enemies want it to mean.
Copyright 2022 John F Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer, and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009. In the mid-1980s, John served as a board member of the Illinois Right to Work Committee under the tutelage of the late Tom Latimer.
A collection of John’s Illinois Review articles about vote fraud, The Tales of Little Pavel, and his 2021 political satires about current events, Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes One and Two, are available, in either paperback or eBook, only on Amazon.
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