Illinois may soon be surrounded by states that better protect worker freedom than Illinois does. That’s bad news for workers and for the state’s economy.

In Illinois, employees in unionized workplaces who don’t want to join the union have limited options. They can opt out of full union membership and become fair share payers, but they are still required to pay fees to the union. Most states, however, are trending toward providing more freedom to workers through Right-to-Work laws. Right to Work prohibits forcing workers to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of keeping their jobs.

The majority of states already have adopted Right-to-Work laws. This includes almost all of Illinois’ neighbors – i.e., its main competitors for business in the Midwest – with the exception of Missouri and Kentucky.

But that soon may change.

With a newly elected Republican governor in Missouri and a now Republican-controlled House of Representatives in Kentucky, Right-to-Work reforms in those states are likely.

The Missouri legislature passed Right-to-Work legislation in 2015, but Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill. With Nixon term-limited, the November 2016 election provided an opening for Republican Eric Greiten to succeed him. Greiten has already promised to “fight to improve Missouri’s job climate” with Right-to-Work legislation.

In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin campaigned in 2014 on a platform calling for passage of comprehensive Right-to-Work legislation, but a Democratically-controlled House of Representatives blocked labor reforms. Republicans took control of the House with the election Nov. 8, making Right to Work likely in Kentucky.

This likelihood that all of Illinois’ neighboring states will soon provide more freedom to workers does not bode well for Illinois. Illinois residents are already leaving the state in droves. Illinois’ out-migration rate is worse than any other state in the region. What’s more, Illinois has the fastest shrinking workforce of all surrounding states.

Contrary to union claims that worker freedom kills jobs and state economies, the evidence shows that states supporting worker freedom generate stronger economic growth – including among Illinois’ main competitors for business in the Midwest.

For example, since it enacted a Right-to-Work law in 2012, Michigan has:

- Michigan’s payroll employment increased by 284,800 jobs (7 percent)

- Private sector wages are up 4.9 percent.

- Unemployment dropped to 4.5 percent from 9 percent (below the national average)

 And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Michigan experienced population growth between July 2014 and July 2015.

Those statistics hardly spell a death knell for Michigan’s economy, despite unions’ warnings against labor reform.

Illinois, on the other hand, was one of only seven states with population decline between July 2014 and July 2015. Between 2001 and 2011 forced-unionization states, including Illinois, lost 2.1 million jobs. Right-to-Work states, however, added 1.7 million jobs during that time – even as the Great Recession ravaged much of the country.

Clearly, Illinois needs labor reform to remain competitive with its neighbors.

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