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HomeIllinois NewsFrom and Chougule: Right-to-Work Zones in Deep-Blue Illinois?

From and Chougule: Right-to-Work Zones in Deep-Blue Illinois?

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NEW YORK – In an op-ed published Monday in the Wall Street Journal, leaders of Americans for Prosperity-Illinois call for Right to Work in, of all states, Illinois. They base their call on a recent court ruling in Kentucky that may have set a Right to Work precedent that could be used throughout the nation. 

By David From and Akash Chougule –

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month in United Auto Workers v. Hardin County that Kentucky’s local governments—not only the state legislature—can decide whether to implement right-to-work laws, which ban unions from firing workers who refuse to pay dues. This ruling should relieve reformers throughout the Midwest, but it’s particularly good news for Illinois, where unions and their political allies have made securing workers’ freedom an uphill battle.

Right to work is an important part of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Illinois” agenda. Under his proposal, local governments would have the option to decide for themselves whether to adopt right to work. The policy could apply to workers in the private economy, as well as government employees. Any unit of local government could make this decision—cities, towns, counties, municipal wards and even school districts.

Yet Mr. Rauner has faced hurdles at every turn. Mike Madigan, Illinois’s powerful speaker of the house, almost immediately shot down the idea of serious right-to-work legislation. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker’s daughter, issued a legal opinion arguing that right-to-work laws for local governments within a state are illegal. The Sixth Circuit’s judgment may help overcome such resistance.


After Hardin County in central Kentucky enacted its own local right-to-work law, the United Auto Workers and other unions challenged the policy in court. A federal-district court had previously sided with the unions in a ruling this February. But the Sixth Circuit’s unanimous decision upheld the county’s ability to enact a local right-to-work policy on the basis of home rule. Under this principle—a practice observed in most states—local governments are free to enact their own ordinances or laws, so long as they don’t conflict with state law.

The issue is now moot in Kentucky, as newly empowered Republicans plan to enact a statewide right-to-work law. But the court has set a precedent, and many states should be optimistic. Ohio is still not a right-to-work state, but its counties and cities fall under the Sixth Circuit’s jurisdiction. These entities can immediately begin implementing right-to-work policies. The Ohio counties bordering right-to-work states—Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and soon Kentucky—have the strongest incentive to act.

Although Illinois isn’t under the Sixth Circuit’s jurisdiction, a similar challenge is already under way. The village of Lincolnshire, about 30 miles north of Chicago, enacted a right-to-work ordinance last year. Lincolnshire immediately faced lawsuits from unions, including the AFL-CIO.

Although the AFL-CIO’s lawsuit has yet to be resolved, Illinois localities can now cite the precedent set in Kentucky. So can cities and counties in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and other states in a similar situation. If the case reaches the Seventh Circuit and the courts rule unfavorably, the issue could end up being decided by the Supreme Court.

Lincolnshire isn’t the only municipality where right to work would be beneficial. These laws would help Winnebago County, next to Wisconsin, and many of the southern counties that border Kentucky, Missouri, and Indiana, where coal-related jobs have disappeared.

While progress on the local level is important, the entire state desperately needs the economic boom that accompanies the enactment of right-to-work laws. According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Illinois lost 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the past year. Unemployment stands at 5.6%, about a point above the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Whereas Illinois and other forced-unionization states have struggled with persistent unemployment since the Great Recession, right-to-work states have 1 percentage point lower unemployment, on average, according to the Mackinac Center. These states also enjoy significantly higher economic growth. Bureau of Economic Analysis data show that before 2012 forced-unionization states grew 40% slower, on average, than their right-to-work competitors. In 2010 Ohio University economist Richard K. Vedder wrote in CatoJournal that “people move in extraordinary numbers to right-to-work states” from forced-unionization states, bringing with them an influx of talent and new skills—something Illinois desperately needs.

Right to work would also help attract businesses back to Illinois. When Indiana embraced the policy in 2012, 120 companies signaled that the decision would affect their choice to relocate to the Hoosier state, according to Gov. Mike Pence . Discussing Lincolnshire’s recent decision, a site-selection expert from the firm Biggins Lacy Shapiro and Co., wrote“I can confirm that companies are aware of the opportunity and cite it as one of the reasons to consider a move.”

Illinois’s localities don’t have to idly watch as businesses and workers uproot for greener pastures. The Sixth Circuit’s ruling should inspire many of them to take matters into their own hands and pass right-to-work laws freeing local workers. The unions that control the levers of power in the state legislature may not like it, but they can no longer blockade the path to worker freedom—and the many benefits it brings.

Mr. From is the Illinois state director of Americans for Prosperity, where Mr. Chougule is director of policy.

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