Michael Lucci Apr. 22, 2015, 8:52am

Since Warren County became the first Kentucky government to enact a local worker-freedom law on Dec. 19, the local Right-to-Work revolution has spread to 12 counties across the state, with four more lined up to join. In these worker-freedom counties, no worker can be forced to pay union dues in order to keep a job.

With Right to Work popping up across the Bluegrass State, Kentucky joins Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa as a neighboring state economy poised to poach Illinois industry on the margin of pro-growth policies.

Worker freedom means one simple thing: workers can choose to opt in or out of unions along with the associated union dues and fees. Workers who feel they are not treated well by business managers are free to organize and unionize, and workers who feel they are not treated well by union bosses are free to drop out of the union and stop paying fees.

Under current state law in Illinois and Kentucky, all workers in a unionized workplace are forced to pay fees just to keep their jobs, even if they opt out of the union. Right to Work places worker sovereignty and control of the paycheck in the hands of each individual worker, where it rightfully belongs.

The effects of local Right to Work in Warren County have been immediately positive. Since passing the ordinance, Warren County has received 30 inquiries from site-selector companies for new business projects, implying as much as 2,300 new jobs and $184 million in new investment, all in a county with a workforce of 60,000.

Counties in Kentucky are able to enact worker-freedom laws because of the home-rule powers granted to Kentucky counties by state statute. These powers are paralleled in Illinois via Article VII Section 6 of the state constitution, which grants discretion to home-rule local governments on issues where they are not pre-empted by the state. Thus, Illinois’ home-rule municipalities can enact local worker-freedom ordinances in order to guarantee workers’ freedom of association and to encourage economic development.

Kentucky’s local reform movement has been bipartisan, with both Democrats and Republicans voting to embrace worker freedom and pursue economic growth at the local level. The revolution that is sweeping across Kentucky counties mirrors the one spreading across American states, particularly along Illinois’ borders. The Land of Lincoln is being surrounded by worker-freedom states, which are increasingly poaching Illinois jobs, particularly in manufacturing.

The local revolution that began in Kentucky can spread to Illinois. Gov. Bruce Rauner has voiced support for an innovative statewide law that would allow local referendums on whether to create “employee-empowerment zones” in local communities. But if Illinois municipalities don’t see such positive legislation come out of Springfield, they’d be wise to flex their home-rule muscles to make worker freedom a reality sooner rather than later.

Michael Lucci is Director of Jobs and Growth for the Illinois Policy Institute. 

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