Is Illinois an island in an increasingly non-union sea?
So-called “Right to Work” (for less) laws are slowly engulfing the Prairie State. On January 7, Kentucky became a right-to-work state, and also abolished the state’s construction prevailing wage law.
As this is written, Missouri is poised to do the same. Indiana passed its law in 2012, Michigan in 2013 and Wisconsin passed the anti-union legislation in 2015.
What is right-to-work (for less)?
“Right-to-Work is probably one of the most successful labeling campaigns in history. A “right-to-work” law has nothing to do with a person’s right to employment. This law outlaws union security clauses in union contracts. A union security clause says that anyone who works underneath a union negotiated collective bargaining agreement -- a contract -- joins the union. That individual then pays dues, which helps pay the expenses of negotiating the contract, having a union representative and other union activities.
The real crux of a right-to-work law, and the killer for union organizations, is that under “right-to-work” laws, a worker can enjoy all the benefits of a union contract, without paying any of the expenses. If union members organize and build their organization and negotiate a raise, the non-dues payer gets the raise too. If the non-dues payer has a grievance, the union members must pay the expenses for that person’s representation, no matter how costly.
When Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R) ran for office in 2014, he pushed a plan to establish “right-to-work” zones around Illinois. He also has praised Wisconsin’s and Indiana’s Governors for pushing “right-to-work” in their respective states. In May 2015, Rauner’s bill to establish these zones could not win a single vote in the Illinois legislature. The opportunity came in adjoining states when the Republican Party won control of the State Legislature, State Senate and the Governor’s office.
The 58-page national Republican platform, adopted at their 2016 Cleveland convention, urges the passage of a national right-to-work law, which would ban union security clauses in collective bargaining agreements, and argues that minimum wage laws should be left to the states.
What has stopped Rauner’s plan? So far it’s been Democratic control of the Illinois House, under Speaker Michael Madigan, and the Illinois Senate, under Senate President John Cullerton. Some Republicans have sided with labor on these issues.
Another cornerstone of workers’ rights is the construction prevailing wage law, which states that on government-funded projects, the area’s prevailing wage must be paid. Both the federal government has such a law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, and Illinois has a similar law, which protects local communities from unscrupulous contractors and insures decent wages for workers.
Laborers’ International Union of North America Vice-President John Penn of Bloomington noted: “Unless we educate ourselves, prepare ourselves and become organized, our families’ security and livelihood is in real danger. Illinois should not be the last domino to fall -- it’s imperative that union members understand these laws and not be fooled by misnamed tricks like ‘right-to-work.’”
by Mike Matejka
Livingston & McLean Counties Bldg & Trades Council