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Reeder: Lawmakers should set out to make Illinois a right-to-work state

Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 9:19 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 9:25 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD – Thirty-one years ago, I gave a speech to my high school rhetoric class on how Illinois ought to become a right-to-work state.

Back when I was in high school, my hometown of Galesburg was an industrial center that churned out lawn mowers, refrigerators, steel buildings and outboard motors.

Industrial unions were powerful in Galesburg just as they were in nearby Peoria, Moline and all across Illinois.

So my speech calling for ending compulsory unionism was not particularly well received.

After all, many of my classmates were the sons and daughters of union workers. To them, I was preaching apostasy. A right-to-work law simply means that employees cannot be forced to join or otherwise pay union dues in order to keep their jobs.

Today, when I visit my hometown, I feel sadness. Those union factory jobs have evaporated. Today, industrial unions are a shadow of their former selves. Factory jobs are migrating to right-to-work states – places where the marketplace, not union coercion, determine wages.

The last time I wrote on this topic, union leaders responded by saying things are much worse in right-to-work states. Baloney. Take a look at our neighbors in Iowa and Indiana. Both states are right-to-work states, but the economies there are chugging along quite nicely.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council representing city and county workers in Milwaukee has experienced a 61 percent drop in membership during the first two years that a public employee right to work law has been in place. And the AFSCME council representing state workers saw its membership fall 35 percent, the MacIver Institute reports.

Labor unions like to talk about “empowering” workers. The reality is much different. Shouldn’t workers be free to choose?

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a  journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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