A famous Supreme Court quip is that the U.S. Constitution isn’t a suicide pact, but what about the Illinois constitution? After years of fiscal recklessness, the state’s credit ratings are a notch above junk. Yet the politicians in Springfield now want to add collective bargaining to the Illinois bill of rights, putting union power on the same footing as due process and religious freedom.
The House passed the idea Wednesday after the Senate approved it last week. The proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee a “fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively,” including for better wages, hours, working conditions and a vague catchall of “economic welfare.” The amendment says that no law would be allowed to block labor agreements from “requiring membership in an organization as a condition of employment.”
This is meant to head off the right-to-work movement, which has found success in Illinois’s neighborhood. Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky all have banned coerced unionization during the past decade. It’s a bad idea to lock Illinois into an uncompetitive policy for private workers. What’s worse is that the amendment could make it impossible for the state to tweak the public labor rules that are driving its unsustainable finances.
Illinois law is very favorable to government unions. Teachers are able to go on strike, unlike in many other states. The Legislature is also weighing a bill to let Chicago’s school principals unionize and strike. Collective bargaining in Illinois isn’t tightly limited. Next door in Wisconsin, former Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 law, passed in 2011, generally says that public workers may bargain only over their wages.
Illinois desperately needs that kind of structural reform, but it soon might be unconstitutional if the amendment’s backers get their way. In that case the state’s long-term fiscal problems could become essentially unfixable. Public unions would push for higher spending, as they always do, with no possible legal brake. The constitutional amendment Illinois truly needs is one that allows the state to change the public-worker pensions that are bankrupting it.