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With Kentucky-Style Right-to-Work Zones, New IL Gov. Rauner is “Selling Out Working Families”

Bruce Rauner right-to-work zones

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Just weeks into his term, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner amped up his well-established anti-union rhetoric during a speech at Richland Community College in Decatur.  Among the topics he discussed were prevailing wage, Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), and the creation of “Right-to-Work” zones to fight what he calls “forced unionism.”  

Rauner labels the new designations “employee empowerment zones,” but they are in fact “Right-to-Work” laws on a county level, something which is all the rage in Kentucky.  He emphasized that he was not advocating a statewide “Right-to-Work” law:

“The states that are already growing don’t force unionization into their economy.  I’m not advocating Illinois becoming a right-to-work state, but I do advocate (for) local governments being allowed to decide whether they’re right-to-work zones.”

Sean Gallagher, a Richland English professor and member of the community college’s employee union, saw the speech and told the Associated Press, “I think unions have done a pretty good job and I don’t think we need to be a scapegoat for the state’s problems.”

Despite his hopes of taking on the state’s unions, many in the Republican party see Rauner’s plans as far-fetched.  Speaking to the Quad City Times, Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said the governor “would have a tough time” pushing extremism in the legislature, adding, “I can’t see it happening.  In this state, it would be really hard to do. That seems to be a heck of a hill to climb.”

State Sen. Tim Bivins, a Republican from Dixon, agreed. “I think that probably hits the nail on the head,” he said.  “I would anticipate that there would be a lot of work to do on something like that.”

Rauner appears to be dreaming a bit, with a Democrat-controlled House and Senate in a state where unions have historically been very powerful.  His other anti-worker talking points, banning PLAs and drastic changes to prevailing wage thresholds, would be met with maximum resistance from Building Trades unions, some of the most effective organizations throughout the state’s aforementioned pro-labor history.  In one sense, this makes the “Right-to-Work” zones Rauner’s most likely pursuit.

In a statement following the Richland speech, Michael Carrigan, President of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said:

“Making Illinois a right-to-work state in any form is a terrible idea.  Responsible job creation in Illinois and across the U.S. is the key to rebuilding our economy, not selling out working families to the lowest bidder.”


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