A state senator wants to get a question in front of voters this November that would ban local governments in Illinois from prohibiting forced unionization. The state’s leading manufacturers’ group says that policy won’t grow the economy.

State Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, filed Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 13 last year. It would amend Illinois’ Bill of Rights to prohibit the state or any local units of government from restricting forced unionization. He was scheduled to hold a press conference on the issue last week, but said he plans to reschedule.

Despite other proposals to change the state constitution, such as to amend the pension protection clause, create a nonpartisan legislative map-making commission, or impose term limits, only one constitutional amendment is set to be in front of voters in November, and that’s the proposal to change Illinois’ flat income tax to a structure with higher rates on higher earners. That passed the General Assembly along party lines last year.

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President Mark Denzler said if Villivalam’s idea were to move forward, it shows a lack of priorities from lawmakers.

“Quite frankly we find it a little ironic that legislators will seek to raise income taxes through the constitutional amendment, they’ll try to take away an employer's ability to negotiate with the employees through a constitutional amendment, but they won’t address pensions through a constitutional amendment,” Denzler said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and leading Democrats at the statehouse have downplayed the impacts an amendment to the state’s pension protection clause would have in reducing the state’s pension shortfall. That shortfall is estimated at $200 billion, when you work in fully subsidized health care for state retirees.

“So we think that legislators should actually focus on policies that are going to create jobs and investment in Illinois and we don’t think [Villivalam’s] policy does,” Denzler said.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 decided in favor of an Illinois state worker that public sector employees can’t be forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 told Crain’s Chicago Business last month the idea in Villivalam’s proposal is private unions going on the offense, rather than playing defense.

National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said Illinois is already a very union-friendly state.

“I think it was during the [Bruce] Rauner administration that, just to show you how dead right-to-work was, I think all the Republicans voted present on a bill to allow counties or cities to make local right to work laws,” Mix said. “That’s how unbelievably powerful organized labor and [House Speaker] Mike Madigan are in the state of Illinois.”

That vote in 2015 to allow right to work zones was defeated with majority Democrats opposing, but Republican leadership urged its members to vote present.

Mix said businesses looking to set up shop or expand in a state take into account whether the state has strict union-protection laws.

If Villivalam’s measure were to pass both chambers before the end of session, it would then need to be certified for the ballot where voters would decide it’s fate in the November general election.

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Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.