During his first State of the State address Wednesday, newly elected Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner attacked the idea of mandatory union membership.
“Empowerment means giving local government employees the ability to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union,” Rauner declared. “Empowerment means giving governments the ability to lower costs by reforming project labor agreements and prevailing wage requirements that block true competitive bidding.”
Since taking office in January, Rauner has already taken numerous opportunities to express his opposition to union power within the state. Prior to his latest speech, Rauner pointed towards Prevailing Wage Laws and Project Labor Agreements as some of the few examples of how labor unions are hurting the state through unfair laws.
“We must also empower voters to decide for themselves whether they want their communities to become employee empowerment zones,” Rauner told the crowd. “These zones will give employees the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union. Local communities – local voters – deserve this option so that they can compete with other states and other nations for new businesses and new investment.”
The plan is very similar to a current initiative in Kentucky. In December, Warren became the first county in the entire country to adopt a right-to-work ordinance which is usually a decision decided at the state level. Since that time, a handful of other Kentucky counties have also adopted right-to-work laws.
The Kentucky initiative has already been challenged by labor unions who say counties and other localities don’t have the authority to pass a right-to-work law, only states and the federal government does. Patrick Semmens, the spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, notes one fundamental difference between Rauner’s plan and what is currently happening in Kentucky.
“His proposal is that the state would pass a law that would allow localities to decide their own right-to-work laws,” Semmens told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s the fundamental difference.”
The Kentucky initiative began solely on the local level without any state approval, which is where much of the legal dispute comes into play. If Rauner was to pass a state law allowing localities to decide on their own, there would be a far less prominent legal challenge.
Later on in his speech, Rauner argued that unions and other special interests manipulate lawmakers and officials all too often — and that such behavior must stop.
“Government unions should not be allowed to influence the public officials they are lobbying and sitting across the bargaining table from through campaign donations and expenditures,” Rauner declared. “That has been federal law since 1947.”
“Government must never force its employees to fund activities they do not support,” Rauner added. “President Jimmy Carter prohibited that at the federal level in 1978.”
Rauner hopes that reforming labor policy and unions will allow the state to overcome some major economic obstacles that have hindered progress in recent years. According to The Illinois Policy Institute, the state is struggling in jobs and education, two areas vital to economic growth and stability.
“Illinois’ low standing for total job growth is unusual given that Illinois has the largest population in the Midwest and the fifth largest nationally,” the Institute noted in a report for 2014. “It takes a particularly toxic combination of bad policy and corrupt dealings to hinder such a large and talented workforce from keeping up with the likes of Kentucky and Connecticut.”
“Illinois tracks last of all states for private-sector job creation in 2014, one of only four states to be negative for jobs on the year,” the report added.
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