FILE - Election 2020 Early Voting Illinois

An information sign shows outside the Elk Grove Village Hall as voters wait in line during early voting at Elk Grove Village, Ill., Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.

A proposed constitutional amendment at the top of today’s ballot puts Illinoisans’ democracy on the bargaining table and ensures a power shift to a special interest group at the expense of everyone else.

The special interest, government union bosses, already have an influence in Illinois’ government that is well documented. Their decades-long entanglement with former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan gave them unmatched power in state government that resulted in countless corruption scandals and an out-of-control pension crisis.

The bosses’ latest and most extreme power grab yet will be at the top of the ballot on Election Day. Amendment 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that promises to thwart Illinois’ democracy. The amendment would hand Illinoisans’ influence over their legislators to the government union bosses, who would gain new power to dictate public policy through collective bargaining.

Here’s how.

Government union bosses would be able to bargain over not just wages, compensation and working conditions for government union members, but over policy issues that should be left up to the people and their lawmakers to decide. Bosses could demand affordable housing assistance, school district support for rent control or other policy-related provisions that would not be subject to voter approval. These demands could wind up in contracts without taxpayers’ input, consent or even knowledge – even though taxpayers would be forced to fund all the resulting provisions.

Lawmakers would have little incentive to represent their constituents and reject the government union bosses’ demands, because Amendment 1 also gives government union bosses a permanent right to strike – in other words, a right to hold basic government functions hostage until they get what they want. Just as Illinois teachers-union strikes keep children out of the classroom to gain leverage for compensation, critical public services could be held up for weeks or even months over limitless political subjects. It would be much more expedient, and much less expensive, for lawmakers to agree as pressure mounts to restore public services.

Armed with these two powers, government unions would hijack voters’ authority over their legislators and government policies. Illinoisans would lose much of their self-agency in their government. And the state constitution, designed to help Illinoisans protect their democracy from special interests who seek to destroy it for their own gain, would do the exact opposite.

In the wake of an ongoing national discussion about threats to democracy, Illinois’ Amendment 1 presents perhaps the most direct threat yet, especially since the amendment has potential to set a precedent for copycat laws across the nation. Tim Drea, president of Illinois’ largest government union, has already said union counterparts from around the country have shown interest in the amendment. Activist government unions could set off a wave of voter suppression in their states if they adopt similar laws and cut off the people’s access to their democracy by constitutional mandate.

Like Illinois itself at the center of the nation, Illinois’ government union bosses would be at the center of this practice, which they would unleash like snakes to ensnare democracy across the nation. The fact that this potential – and previously unthinkable – overturn of the country’s sacred institutions would originate with Illinois’ government union bosses is not surprising.

Amendment 1 is the natural culmination of the bosses’ recent actions and priorities, both of which indicate that the bosses want to be policymakers without accountability to voters. According to the government unions’ own reports, the majority of Illinois government-union spending in 2021 went not towards representing workers, but to politics and lobbying, union leadership salaries and other union-boss priorities. In 2019, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike after it presented a list of demands to the city schools in an attempt to coerce the city to legislate on policy matters away from the public’s representatives in the city council chamber. The union’s politicized demands included affordable housing assistance and permission to provide sanctuary protection to undocumented migrants on school property.

Amendment 1 is merely the government union bosses’ avenue for claiming the unchecked political power they have been seeking. But democracy isn’t something they can demand and claim for themselves. It is a sacred right of the people that no special interest should ever possess.

It’s time we told the government union bosses that the Madigan days are over and stop their special-interest intrusion into our most sacred institutions once and for all. There’s still plenty of time left to do it and vote “no” on Amendment 1 today. A few minutes at the polls is worth keeping our democracy off the government union bosses’ bargaining table.

Rebecca Susmarski is a communications associate at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization.