Amid sea of red, Illinois sings right-to-work blues
This year, Republican lawmakers took control of Kentucky's state government for the first time in almost a century, but it took them only days to make Kentucky a right-to-work state. Missouri quickly followed suit, becoming the most recent state to pass right-to-work legislation on February 6.
Both Kentucky and Missouri rode a Republican power surge to become the 27th and 28th right-to-work states, respectively. They join neighboring states Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa in literally surrounding the more-liberal leaning state of Illinois. The question is: Does the Land of Liberty feel the squeeze?
Michael Lucci of the non-profit Illinois Policy Institute told the Sangamon Sun that he is particularly worried about Southern Illinois.
“What this means for the Southern Illinois economy is that it will be more difficult to get jobs,” he said. “Companies invest where they are able to grow, and with Illinois not being a right-to-work state, businesses are moving operations to all these neighboring places while staying clear of Illinois.”
Some experts say that recent data show many right-to-work states are exhibiting faster wage and job growth than their unionized counterparts like Illinois.
For example, Indiana has seen such rapid job growth that it now has more union members than when the right-to-work law passed in 2012, adding some 50,000 dues-paying union members in 2014 alone.
Jim Schultz, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, estimates that at least 1,100 companies have blacklisted the state of Illinois due to its hard-line resistance to right-to-work legislation.
“Right-to-work states tend to employ a lot of workers in blue-collar occupations, and companies like the idea of workers having more choice and not being controlled by unions,” Lucci said. “There are fewer jobs here because employers don’t make that same kind of investment for obvious reasons.”
While many concede that turning Illinois into a right-to-work state remains a long shot given its deep Democratic roots, some are starting to detect cracks.
Just before the new year, the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire’s village board voted to become the first right-to-work municipality in the area. The law was struck down by a federal court, ruling that only states can enact such laws, but Lucci said the writing is on the wall.
“It’s clear if the courts were to say it’s legal, there would be more municipalities enacting similar laws,” he said. “It would be even more powerful if counties were allowed to do it. If that were the case, you would see it repeatedly happening, regardless of what the state itself was choosing to do.”
Until then, Lucci fears Illinois will experience more of the same: namely, seeing its residents relocating to right-to-work states in search of new and better opportunities.
“Right-to-work forces unions to serve workers well,” he said. “Even union leaders are saying this. It’s beneficial for workers because it forces their union bosses to earn their keep with workers.”