Illinois Won’t Reform Its Outdated Union Bargaining Rules, And The People Are Paying The Price

Chicago Teachers Union strike Reuters/John Gress

Mailee Smith Director of labor policy and staff attorney at the Illinois Policy Institute.
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A teachers union can deny cost-effective bussing to low-income students.

And university professors can walk out on strike – leaving students in the lurch just one week before finals.

State employees can skip work 10 times without any real repercussions – all while demanding contract provisions guaranteeing 29 percent raises.

Welcome to Illinois.

The Land of Lincoln is the last holdout in a sea of labor reform, and a prime example of what happens when government unions hold too much power over residents. It’s a simple, vicious formula: Cave to government unions’ demands for unrealistic wages and benefits, and the cost of government rises – along with taxes.

But that’s not the case in surrounding states.

All of the states which border Illinois — Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan — have enacted reforms that reduce government union power and its associated costs. Far from being a “radical” or “extreme” concept, labor reform is the norm in the region. Illinois is the laggard.

One of the most glaring differences between Illinois and its neighbors: Illinois alone gives most government worker unions the power to strike. While every other state surrounding Illinois prohibits strikes for most or all government workers, Illinois has gone the opposite direction, enshrining a “right to strike” in state law.

When government worker unions threaten to strike, they are threatening to shut down important government services in order to get what they want. Unsurprisingly, the state is home to two of the biggest government worker strikes in the last decade, both courtesy of the Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU. Since 2012, the CTU has gone on strike – or threatened to go on strike – at least four times.

It’s not just teachers. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which represents 35,000 state employees, voted to authorize a statewide strike against residents earlier this year.

Withholding services from residents isn’t the only unfair tool in the government union toolbox.

Unlike most of its neighbors, Illinois places no limits on the types of subjects that can be negotiated into government worker contracts. Government unions in Illinois can negotiate over just about anything – from wages to school start times to special days off for workers’ birthdays. That inhibits government flexibility and drives up costs.

It also bogs down the negotiation process, which can take months or even years to iron out all the details, and that leaves both taxpayers and workers in limbo.

Contrast that to Wisconsin and Iowa, where government unions can only bargain over basic wages.

And while most of Illinois’ neighbors have placed restrictions on the length of government worker contracts, Illinois places no such limits on most contracts with government worker unions. That means taxpayers can be locked into paying for wage and benefit increases for many years into the future, regardless of the economic climate.

Some contracts in Chicago and other areas of the state last as long as 10 years.

Illinois also stands alone in forcing workers to pay fees to a union just to keep their jobs. With the exception of Missouri, where right to work is on hold for private sector workers, every neighboring state provides workers in both the public and private sectors the choice of whether to financially support a union.

The Land of Lincoln is the poster child for how not to keep government costs low. Illinois residents suffer under some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and just saw their state income taxes go up by 32 percent this summer.

Already, Illinois loses 1 person every 5 minutes to outmigration. And the No. 1 reason people want to leave is taxes.

To finally rein in the cost of government, it’s time for Illinois to take a lesson from its neighbors and end unchecked government union power.

Mailee Smith is an attorney at the Illinois Policy Institute.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.