Illinois is becoming surrounded by Right-to-Work states, with Kentucky and Wisconsin both taking action this year to adopt forms of Right-to-Work legislation. Iowa has long been a Right-to-Work state, having become so by law in 1947. Indiana and Michigan both passed Right-to-Work legislation in 2012.
Counties across Kentucky began enacting local Right-to-Work ordinances in December of last year, with more counties joining the movement every month. Meanwhile, legislative reports out of Wisconsin indicate the Badger State will consider Right-to-Work legislation early this week. Should that legislation pass the Wisconsin Senate, it is all but guaranteed to become state law.
Last Friday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pledged to sign such legislation when it reaches his desk, which would make Wisconsin the 25th Right-to-Work state in the U.S. It would also increase the pressure on Illinois’ already porous borders. Missouri would be Illinois’ only border state without some form of Right-to-Work legislation.
Right to Work is one of many policy tools that help enhance economic growth. It creates greater worker freedom along with labor flexibility for management, both of which attract business investment. When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was asked about the importance of Right to Work,he made clear that “A lot of companies that don’t really want to talk about it publically are perfectly explicit about talking about it in private.” Right to Work matters for business investment.
Even a patchwork approach like Kentucky’s can attract business attention. Six Kentucky counties have enacted local Right-to-Work ordinances since December 2014, with six more having passed first readings of the ordinance. The first Right-to-Work county was Warren County, home of Western Kentucky University. The ordinance is already having an impact. With a workforce of only 63,000, Warren County has already heard from 15 new business projects representing 2,300 new jobs and $184 million in new investment.
Illinois needs to catch up with its neighbors. Since job losses from the Great Recession ended in January 2010, job creation has been slower in Illinois than in any of its bordering states. And Illinois’ neighbors are actively creating policies to distinguish themselves from the Land of Lincoln.
As neighbors and regional peers move to foster business growth, Illinois is being left behind. A local solution for Illinois’ “home rule” municipalities is to enact Right-to-Work ordinances, just like Kentucky counties are doing. Even as the General Assembly holds back the state, local areas can and should take a big step forward by embracing worker freedom and business growth.
Michael Lucci is Director of Jobs and Growth for the Illinois Policy Institute.