Right to Work sweeps Midwest, heads for passage in Wisconsin

Right to Work sweeps Midwest, heads for passage in Wisconsin

Neighboring states have seen the light. Illinois needs to have its own Right-to-Work realization, or be left behind.

Right-to-Work legislation is sweeping the Midwest. It’s one of many reforms needed to makes states more competitive, reduce cost pressures on infrastructure projects and hold down the necessity of tax hikes.

The Wisconsin Senate passed Right-to-Work legislation on Feb. 26.

The proposal would let workers opt out of paying mandatory dues. Many would do just that, preferring to keep money for themselves rather than for the priorities of union officials, including corruption, graft and various political goals that workers may not at all agree with.

The Wisconsin House is expected to approve the legislation, making passage all but certain. Gov. Scott Walker has gone on record saying he will sign the bill into law.

Illinois again lags behind neighboring states

Unfortunately, Illinois is lagging behind other Midwest states in passing Right-to-Work legislation.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce recently took a contradictory position on Right to Work, saying, “Illinois doesn’t need right to work (laws) to compete with its neighbors.”

At the root of both of these policy issues is the state’s ability to compete and attract job creators. If the chamber acknowledges that a minimum-wage increase is a jobs killer, how can it oppose Right to Work, which is proven to attract new businesses?

Contradictory positions

Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch says that minimum-wage increases put employers at a competitive disadvantage. Maisch also contends that “Illinois doesn’t need right to work (laws) to compete with its neighbors.”

Those positions are contradictory. To understand why, one must investigate the tie between “prevailing wage” laws, Right-to-Work laws and collective bargaining.

Prevailing wage

Illinois’ Prevailing Wage Act governs the wages a contractor or subcontractor is required to pay to all “laborers, workers and mechanics” who perform work on public projects. This wage is to be “no less than the general prevailing hourly rate as paid for work of a similar character in the locality in which the work is performed.”

As the Illinois Policy Institute has noted, “This almost always is taken to mean the union rate, even though union workers make up less than 40 percent of the construction workforce and union wages are often 50 percent higher than those of nonunion workers.”

Want to repair roads? Add another wing onto a public school? Fund a bond for any public project? Cities have to pay the “prevailing rate.” Those prevailing rates apply to every imaginable public project, spilling over into many private projects as well.

Prevailing rates are in direct opposition to the idea behind Right-to-Work laws. Under properly formed Right-to-Work legislation, any contractor should be able to bid on any project, regardless of a government-mandated prevailing wage.

Preferably, the needed legislation on these two issues should be accomplished in one fell swoop. If it takes two acts, one for Right to Work and another to repeal prevailing wages, so be it.

The third piece of the puzzle is collective bargaining.

Wisconsin offers example on collective bargaining

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker passed legislation in 2011 to eliminate collective bargaining for most public workers in the Badger State.

Then a curious thing happened, as reported by the Washington Examiner:

“The Kaukauna School District, in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin near Appleton, has about 4,200 students and about 400 employees. It has struggled in recent times and this year faced a deficit of $400,000. But after the law went into effect, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, school officials put in place new policies they estimate will turn that $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. And it’s all because of the very provisions that union leaders predicted would be disastrous.

Some of the most important improvements in Kaukauna’s outlook are because of the new limits on collective bargaining.

Overnight, the Kaukauna school district turned a $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. In essence, Illinois needs to do the same.

Specifically, Illinois desperately needs to do three things, all of them related:

  1. Eliminate collective bargaining of public unions
  2. Pass Right-to-Work legislation
  3. Scrap prevailing-wage legislation

Whether this is done in one fell swoop or in three separate acts does not matter except in terms of time, and Illinoisans have little time to spare.

Businesses and private citizens are fleeing the state at record rates in search of a healthier business climate and to avoid enormous property taxes. Illinois cannot afford for these losses to continue much longer, especially if another national recession should occur. Illinois fared poorly in the last recovery, and another recession may very well do in the state – especially state pension plans – unless appropriate measures are enacted soon.

See the light

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and others coming out against Right to Work in the Land of Lincoln, would be wise to reconsider their position.

One by one, neighboring states have seen the light. Illinois needs to have its own Right-to-Work realization, or be left behind, lagging in job growth, while paying more in taxes for infrastructure improvements.

Image source. 

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