June 13, 2008

SPRINGFIELD (June 13)—The Illinois AFL-CIO announced it has joined a broad coalition of labor, business and civic organizations opposed to a November ballot measure calling for a new convention to rewrite the current Illinois Constitution.

The Illinois Constitution adopted in 1970 required that a referendum on calling a new constitutional convention be on the ballot every 20 years beginning in 1988.

“The proposal lost by a 3-to-1 ratio in the 1988 election, and the Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution believes it should be rejected again this year,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“The Executive Board of the Illinois AFL-CIO voted unanimously last December 4 to oppose the calling of a new constitutional convention and to become a member of the Alliance,” he said.

A constitutional convention is the mechanism used to rewrite the Illinois Constitution, which was last done in 1970. The Alliance said that it was opposed to a constitutional convention because “the current Illinois Constitution provides a modern, workable, basic structure on which to divide the powers of government and to guarantee individual rights.”

Moreover, the Alliance said, “We believe that that in the current political climate, holding a ‘Con Con’ would truly be opening a Pandora’s box. Illinoisans might well end up with a worse constitutional situation than we have now.”

In its statement the Alliance said a Con Con at this time would “open the floodgate” to a host of competing hot-button issues at a time when the climate among state elected officials has become rancorous and uncooperative.

“There is real risk to workers in this state to reopening our constitution,” Szabo said. “Public-employee pensions, “right-to-work” or other anti-labor provisions, expanding or restricting tort liability, could all be a risk if the Constitution were opened for rewriting.

“This is of particular concern for our Metra members, who enjoy significant ‘labor protections’ under current state statute,” Szabo said. “We don’t need to put at risk our rights under Railroad Retirement, the Railway Labor Act or FELA.”

Szabo said the UTU is “totally on board with the Alliance’s opposition to a new Con Con.

“When changes are necessary it is appropriate to adopt them through the legislative process or by voting for candidates who favor the changes,” he said. “Tinkering with the Constitution doesn’t buy us anything.”

In addition, Szabo said, organizing a Con Con would be “cumbersome and expensive.”

“The governor and the General Assembly would first have to decide how the convention would be structured and how the 118 delegates to the convention would be elected,” he said. “The subject matter would be wide-open, meaning debate and discussion would consume months of precious legislative time, and the cost of the entire process would likely exceed $100 million.

“With the state budget already $2 billion in the red and the governor and the General Assembly in a nearly continual state of dispute and ill will, 2008 is not a good year for organizing a constitutional convention,” Szabo said. “The UTU stands firmly with the Illinois AFL-CIO and the Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution in opposing such an initiative.

“It is imperative that you actually ‘vote no’ on November 4 and not simply ‘skip over’ the ballot question.” Szabo said. “A failure to vote will give those with an agenda extra power with their yes vote. Don’t let them take your rights simply because you failed to vote ‘No.’”