Illinois Gov. floats local “Right-to-Work” zones

nfib-logoBy NFIB

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is distributing a plan for increased local government control to municipalities around the state with the hope that they will pass resolutions of support. His plan, which he calls the “Turnaround Agenda,” calls for legislators in Springfield to pass legislation authorizing “home rule” communities that would be allowed to opt-out of some state laws. The most notable portion of the proposal is permission for local governments to create “employee empowerment zones” where employees would be given the choice whether or not to join a union. Right-To-Work laws have stalled at the state level, so the Agenda’s zones would give the choice to localities. According to the Agenda, “Within an employee empowerment zone, state law would give workers the right to voluntarily join, or refrain from joining, a union. It would be unlawful to condition employment on the obligation to join a union or pay union-related dues within a zone.”

These zones could be created in “any county, municipality, school district, or other unit of local government” with either the support of the local governmental body or from the simple majority of voters in a ballot initiative. In most situations, the right-to-work rule would apply both to government and private sector employers. In Chicago, any ward could choose to become a zone, but it would only apply to private sector companies, and the zone would maintain its initial borders even if the ward is redistricted in the future.

What Happens Next

The Turnaround Agenda faces an uncertain future, with capitol Democrats and many local councils firmly in opposition. Critics have pledged a legal challenge to the proposal’s delegation of state authority to the municipal level, should it be implemented. Two former members of Rauner’s campaign staff recently created Turnaround Illinois, a super PAC, to advance the agenda.

What It Means For Small Business

Right-To-Work rules are long overdue in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin all have right-to-work laws, putting Illinois businesses at a competitive disadvantage. When signing the latest such law last month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) touted that it would “give… employers another compelling reason to consider expanding or moving their business to Wisconsin.” NFIB commended the law from Illinois’ northern neighbor. “This legislation provides workers the freedom to make important decisions that impact the conditions of their employment,” said Bill G. Smith, NFIB Wisconsin State Director, about Walker’s signing the bill into law. “We believe it will help improve our state’s economy and actually strengthen our workforce.” It would be better for small businesses in Illinois if the entire state adopted a right-to-work law, since complying with inconsistent local rules could prove difficult.

Additional Reading

Other news media outlets covering the debate over the Turnaround Agenda include the Chicago Tribune, WBEZ-FM, the Chicago Daily Herald, and the AP.

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