Illinois Senate votes to criminalize local leaders who enact Right to Work

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
October 24, 2017

Illinois Senate votes to criminalize local leaders who enact Right to Work

State lawmakers supporting Senate Bill 1905 aren’t just seeking to crush the idea of Right to Work – they are seeking to crush anyone who supports it.

Illinois state senators took disagreement on economic policy to a whole new level on Oct. 24, voting 42-13 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 1905.

That bill prohibits local governments from enacting their own Right-to-Work ordinances. In areas with a Right-to-Work law, workers cannot be required to pay money to a union in order to keep their jobs.

But the bill doesn’t stop with a simple prohibition of Right to Work. It goes much farther, holding criminally liable local officials who enact an economic policy that is the law of the land in 27 U.S. states – including every neighboring state except Missouri.

Not content with prohibiting an economic policy with which they disagree – not to mention one that has job-creating possibilities – the Senators voted to enact a law that will jail and/or fine anyone who enacts policy to the contrary.

The Senate’s vote clears one hurdle toward enactment of the draconian bill. It now moves to the Illinois House for an override vote.

SB 1905 would crush job opportunities for Illinoisans

SB 1905 takes specific aim at home rule communities such as the village of Lincolnshire. Following the state’s continued failure to enact reforms that would attract new economic opportunities, the Lincolnshire Village Board enacted a Right-to-Work ordinance for the village in 2015.

Right-to-Work zones would help attract businesses to areas that might otherwise get overlooked along with the rest of the state.

And businesses do, in fact, reject Illinois because it is not a Right-to-Work state. Residents recently learned that the hard way – they will miss out on 4,000 potential new jobs, as Toyota and Mazda have taken Illinois out of the running for a new $1.6 billion facility.

Illinois’ failure to follow the lead of its Right-to-Work neighbors was one of the factors in Toyota and Mazda’s decision to pass on Illinois, according to information from the CEO of Intersect Illinois reported by Crain’s Chicago Business.

In 2015, Crain’s reported that the former director of Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said more than 1,100 companies have “blacklisted” Illinois because it does not have a Right-to-Work law. And two-thirds of global chief financial officers surveyed by CNBC in 2015 said a Right-to-Work law is either “important” or “very important” when deciding where to grow their businesses.

If the House follows the Senate and the governor’s veto is overridden, SB 1905 would forbid local governments from enacting their own local ordinances aimed at bringing businesses to their communities, effectively handing the competitive edge to communities in the nation’s 27 Right-to-Work states, including neighboring Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Indiana.

SB 1905 would hold officials criminally liable for seeking to better their communities

SB 1905 is stunning in its severity.

It doesn’t just prohibit local Right-to-Work zones. It would hold criminally liable any official who violates that prohibition.

Specifically, the bill states:

Any officer, representative, director, elected official, or the like of any local government or political subdivision, or agent thereof who knowingly or willfully violates this Act, or who knowingly or willfully fails to comply with this Act, is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.”

That means the bill equates Right to Work – an economic policy that has been adopted by the majority of states and is sought out by businesses like Toyota – with fairly serious crimes.

In Illinois, a Class A misdemeanor is the most serious of the misdemeanor crimes – in fact, it’s just one step down from a felony. It is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

Furthermore, the penalty section is incredibly vague. Just who is criminally liable if a local Right-to-Work ordinance is enacted? If a village board approves an ordinance by a vote of 3-2, are all five members criminally liable, or only the three who voted for the ordinance? SB 1905 doesn’t specify.

That vagueness, combined with the seriousness of the criminal penalty, is likely to create a chilling effect on local officials, discouraging them from economic policy resourcefulness out of fear of running afoul of the law and incurring personal criminal liability.

What’s more, SB 1905’s penalty section upsets the very notion of a democratic society. Typically, government officials are not held personally liable for carrying out their duties. They are given immunity for actions taken in their official capacities.

But SB 1905 would criminalize the enactment. And that means it would criminalize the democratic act of voting for policies officials think would best serve their communities and reflect the will of their constituents.

SB 1905 is frightening in its implications. Lawmakers supporting the bill aren’t just seeking to crush the idea of Right to Work – they are seeking to crush anyone who supports it.

The Senate’s vote to override the governor’s veto moves Illinois toward an authoritarian political environment wherein state lawmakers make criminals of other leaders for enacting economic reforms with which they disagree.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!