More than $1.5M in union cash may cloud Lisa Madigan’s judgment on Right to Work

More than $1.5M in union cash may cloud Lisa Madigan’s judgment on Right to Work

While no definitive legal opinion has been issued on the merits of local Right to Work, Madigan has charged Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal with violating federal labor law.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a legal opinion on March 20 saying Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to establish Right-to-Work zones in Illinois would violate federal labor law.

But she has accepted a great deal of money in political contributions from unions over the years, creating an obvious conflict of interest.

In February, the Illinois Policy Institute released “The anatomy of influence: Government unions in Illinois,” finding that Madigan has received $1.6 million in political donations from big public unions from 2002-2014. Those unions, particularly chapters of the Service Employees International Union, have members who work in the private sector.

Madigan also collected $112,750 from the Chicago Federation of Labor, $72,777 from AFL-CIO affiliates and $181,725 from the Teamsters, among others.

Rauner wants to give local governments the power to set up “employee-empowerment zones” by adopting local regulations that promote job creation. Workers in the zones could choose for themselves whether to belong to a union and pay union dues, a right they don’t currently enjoy.

Madigan admits “there are no reported judicial decisions, either state or federal, addressing the issue of whether the [National Labor Relations Act] preempts counties and municipalities in Illinois from enacting ordinances that limit the use of union security agreements,” but points to decisions by other states and attorneys general to back up her assertion on local Right to Work.

One state was Kentucky, which kicked off the national movement in local Right-to-Work efforts and where a number of counties have already enacted countywide Right-to-Work ordinances.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who is running for governor in 2015 and has been endorsed by unions, wrote an advisory opinion against local Right-to-Work legislation.

Kyle Henderson, a local union business manager, released a statement the same day as Conway’s opinion saying, “We are proud to support the Conway-Overly ticket.”

However, two retired chief justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court, Joseph E. Lambert and J. William Graves, wrote an open letter in support of local Right to Work. The justices – one Republican and one Democrat – wrote, “The conclusion is inescapable. Congress authorized states to enact Right-to-Work statutes and many have done so … The Kentucky General Assembly authorized counties to perform many state law functions.”

They also noted that the court case used by the Kentucky attorney general as the basis of his argument was out of date because it was decided before Kentucky’s “home rule” statute was enacted. Madigan also cited this case in her opinion.

While the battling between supporters and detractors of local Right to Work goes on, one thing is clear: There has been no legal opinion one way or the other that has the authority to determine if Congress wanted to give localities the power to protect workers’ rights in choosing whether or not to support a union.

Local governments in states with home-rule authority, such as Illinois and Kentucky, may very well have the authority Congress delegated to the states in granting worker freedom. Any opinion by an attorney general is mere conjecture on congressional intent.

Of course, the true test of local Right to Work will come through the courts.

Director of Jobs and Growth Michael Lucci and Senior Fellow Vincent Vernuccio contributed to this post.

Image credit: studio08denver

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