“Right to work” hasn’t been a headline in the campaign for Illinois governor, but it could be one of the most controversial topics. The policy for a state, or municipalities inside it, to become a “right to work” community has been a divisive issue in states with large union presences. In Illinois, it could be just as divisive.
A right to work law would end mandatory payment of dues for workers in companies or government organizations with a union presence. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner has been on the record saying he would support “right to work” zones where a county or local municipality could decide for itself if it wished to implement the law.
Paul Kersey is labor policy director for the Illinois Policy Institute. It’s a conservative research group. Kersey says “right to work” is about giving employees back their rights.
“Workers can decide for themselves whether or not to join a union. You cannot be forced to join or pay dues or fees to a union as a condition for employment,” Kersey said.
The institute’s research shows right to work states are more attractive to businesses looking for a home.
“Employers want to know if there’s a union in the workplace, and it’s there because the workers really want it there,” Kersey said.
But Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, says the real reason companies look for right to work is because the loss in revenue drains unions’ bargaining power.
“What it will do is weaken workers’ ability to use their collective strength to protect their wages and benefits,” Balanoff said.
Rauner has suggested letting individual communities create right to work zones to attract business. Balanoff said promoting growth by weakening unions is not smart business in the long run.
“If we’re bringing companies in here,” he said, “and we’re telling them come to this state because you won’t have to pay taxes and you can pay workers less than you might pay in other places, that’s not a good idea.”
Balanoff said the biggest issue with right to work is it creates a free-rider system eroding union support. People who don’t pay are still required to be given all of the protections under their union contract. Rauner has said he would not advocate for a statewide right to work law.