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Dupage Policy Journal

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Kentucky's right-to-work legislation could take toll on southern Illinois economy

Local Government

By Glenn Minnis | Jan 15, 2017

511 Sarazen Loop S. | Courtesy of Keller Williams - Georgetown

As Missouri and Kentucky join Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin with right-to-work laws making it illegal to force workers to join a union or pay related dues to remain employed, some wonder what the economic impact will be on southern Illinois.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) said she has no doubt the right-to-work movement is what’s best for the region and her constituents.

“I am a strong supporter, and it’s fairly obvious that many of the surrounding states are now attracting far more manufacturing jobs than we are in Illinois – largely because of this law," she said. "Meanwhile, Illinois continues to stand as a decimated island because of its resistance. People should not have to join a union to have a job.”

HB 1, the so-called “right-to-work” bill in Kentucky, was at the head of an aggressive GOP-led agenda that started in the House and made it to the governor's desk just seven days later. For years, Republican lawmakers sought to enact such legislation, only to be denied by the Democrat-controlled House. But now, with super majorities in both chambers, GOP leaders have wasted little time in advancing their proposal.

Critics of the bill and the right-to-work movement insist it weakens the leverage of labor unions and ultimately leads to lower wages for workers across the board.

In all, 28 states have right-to-work laws on the books. In some instances, government data suggests those states are experiencing faster wage and job growth than unionized states like Illinois. In addition, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Jim Schultz said more than 1,100 companies have rejected the state as a possible center of operation because of the absence of a right-to-work law.

“Not having right-to-work has become one more reason companies have become accustomed to crossing off Illinois as a place to build or expand a business,” Ives said. “When you already have the highest property taxes, all these negatives become too much even for all the natural advantages a state like Illinois has to offer.”

In Indiana, right-to-work legislation went into effect in 2012. Since then, the independent think tank Illinois Policy Institute reports job growth there is on an upswing – and even more union members now exist than when the law first passed. In 2014 alone, Indiana added 50,000 new union members to top the country in that category.

Still, in a heavily controlled Democratic state like Illinois, the reality remains that right-to-work laws are far from becoming the norm. However, the movement may be making strides.

Just before the new year, Lincolnshire’s village board voted to become the area’s first right-to-work municipality. After local unions sued over the ordinance, a district court judge ruled that local governments can't enact such a law. The matter is still pending a likely appeal.

“I am in support of local counties doing what they need to do to remain economically afloat,” Ives said. “Right now, the only manufacturing jobs we have remaining are from niche businesses that depend on a certain aspect of our economy. As it is, larger companies will continue to stay away and that has to do with all the disincentives as a state we now have in place and right-to-work is right at the top of the list.”

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