Three years ago, in the midst of a financial crisis, the state of Wisconsin enacted a landmark labor reform package, now known as Public Act 10. Through this legislation, the Legislature made fundamental changes to its government collective-bargaining law.
Wisconsin started with a public-sector labor law that paralleled Illinois’ in most respects, but PA 10 enacted tight limits on the scope of bargaining and took other actions to reduce union influence outside of the bargaining room as well.
The legislation spurred a dramatic union response. At one point, union protestors physically occupied the state Capitol, hampering official state business. The state Senate’s Democratic caucus, uniformly opposed to the reform bill, fled the state and eventually gathered in Illinois in hopes that by denying the bill’s supporters a quorum, they could bring the Legislature to a halt.
The flight to Illinois was an apt symbol. While the ploy ultimately failed to stop the labor law reform package from becoming law, government worker unions have found relative safety in Illinois – this state has yet to seriously consider the systematic labor law reform that Wisconsin underwent.
This has been to the detriment of the people of Illinois. Wisconsin has made great strides since enacting its sweeping reform. Its fiscal and economic position has become much stronger, and the quality of important government services has improved. It
has managed to balance its budgets without tax increases and without the hardships – layoffs and service cutbacks – normally associated with “austerity.”
Illinois would do well to emulate Wisconsin’s success.